On Monday, UNFCCC COP17 gets underway in Durban, South Africa. Geoengineering will not be a focus of the proceedings, yet several agenda items will have a direct bearing on the future of SRM and CDR strategies. Here are four areas to watch, all of which impact geoengineering research and policy:
1. The future of Kyoto - The first legally-binding "commitment period" under the Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of next year, and no successor agreement is currently in place. Parties have struggled in vain since Copenhagen to reach consensus on a second commitment period to take effect after 2012, thereby avoiding a gap in the schedule of international mandatory emissions reductions. Unfortunately, leading states are highly unlikely to strike such a deal in Durban. Failure to negotiate a new scheme will reinforce the belief that a robust global mitigation regime is not possible under present circumstances, and even more attention will shift to geoengineering as a result. Ironically, rather than creating a moral hazard that weakens efforts to reduce emissions, geoengineering is likely to gain in prominence due to the moral failure to mitigate climate change.
2. Geoengineering on the fringes - Geoengineering is not wholly absent from the conference agenda. The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) will release a report in Durban, and UNESCO, UNEP, and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) will issue a joint policy brief on geoengineering. Climate engineering is also certain to be the subject of informal discussions on the meeting sidelines. It will be important to gauge the reactions of conference delegates to geoengineering research proposals and policy initiatives, especially when juxtaposed against likely nonsuccess in the mitigation arena.
3. Market mechanisms - With a second commitment period in doubt, so too are the "flexible mechanisms," i.e., the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), set up under the Kyoto Protocol to promote international emissions trading. Carbon markets will likely be an essential source of finance for CDR projects. The CDM in particular, coupled with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), has played a critical role in marshaling carbon finance to date. In Durban, parties will debate whether the end of the first commitment period will mean the end of these market mechanisms, whether they will be extended beyond 2012, or whether CDM and JI will be replaced by restructured institutions. Discussions are likely to focus on the creation of a new "sectoral crediting mechanism," which would scale up from project-level crediting (integral to the CDM) to sectoral-level carbon credits. In addition, COP17 will consider whether to incorporate CCS into the CDM, a decision that will have significant consequences for multiple CDR technologies such as direct air capture and BECCS.
4. REDD+ - Most observers regard REDD+ as one of the few potential bright spots on the Durban agenda. Delegates will continue to work on establishing the institutional architecture of the REDD+ forest credit system, most importantly the financial arrangements that will anchor the emerging framework. Afforestation and reforestation (A/R) activities currently make up a small fraction of CDM projects, but this could change depending on the outcome of REDD+ discussions, particularly those relating to carbon stock enhancements. As usual, NGOs will be out in force to oppose plantation forestry.
Look for blog updates on these and other issues over the next two weeks as circumstances warrant ...
(Note: Minor correction made on 11/30/11.)