Friday, December 21, 2012

NGOs Rally for CCS in Doha

UNFCCC COP18 concluded earlier this month, with few substantive achievements from the perspective of climate engineering.  The conference succeeded in securing a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (though with fewer participants and mediocre ambition levels), thereby extending the CDM and JI through 2020.  And a formal loss and damage work program was established, which may have implications for any eventual geoengineering liability governance mechanisms.  But nothing significant with respect to CCS or A/R (in the context of REDD) was accomplished at the meeting in Doha.

CCS did make some news at a side event hosted by the Global CCS Institute, however.  At this event, the recently formed ENGO Network on CCS (see New NGO CCS Network, 2/2) unveiled a new report calling for a redoubled commitment to CCS.  These groups, including such prominent organizations as EDF and NRDC, proclaimed that CCS is safe, and zeroed in on the principal barrier to wider deployment: "The single biggest barrier standing in the way of CCS deployment is the absence of comprehensive climate policies that place a significant market value on avoided emissions" (p. 6).  The report also singles out BECCS as particularly promising: "the combination of CCS and biomass that is acquired without causing permanent deforestation or otherwise compromising its lifecycle emissions footprint can open up an emissions reduction pathway that 'scrubs' carbon dioxide from the atmosphere" (p. 3).  No doubt the ENGO Network is anxiously awaiting final CCS funding decisions under the EU NER300 program (see Update on NER300, 8/10) and UK Commercialization Program (see Short List Announced in UK CCS Funding Competition, 11/1).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Electricity Market Reform in the UK

An Energy Bill introduced in Parliament last month is pushing forward one more element of Britain's comprehensive CCS Roadmap policy in the form of Electricity Market Reform (EMR), an initiative designed to spur more than £100 billion in new, low-carbon energy infrastructure investments by the end of the decade.  The proposed EMR encompasses the entire electricity sector, and rests primarily on novel "contracts for difference" (CFDs) intended to provide price guarantees for clean energy generators.  If generators sell power for less than preset "strike prices," they will be compensated for the difference by a new, state-backed entity.  When prices exceed this level, generators will pay back the difference.  Specific CFD strike prices, including for electricity derived from power plants equipped with CCS, will be announced next year.  The Energy Bill also creates a new capacity market, and institutes a new emissions performance standard for power stations that will effectively require CCS for all new coal-fired units.  The government expects to pass the bill in 2013, with CFDs coming into force the following year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Views on Geoengineering from UNFCCC COP18 in Doha

Halfway through COP18 in Doha, a Reuters correspondent has spoken to several principals regarding their current views on geoengineering.  Highlights include:
  • "Let's first use what we know ... There are so many proven technologies we know that are tried and true that have not been used to their maximum potential" - Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary
  • "Let's face it, geo-engineering has a lot of unknowns ... How can you go into an area where you don't know anything?" - Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC Chairman
  • "It's a little premature to start looking at geo-engineering" - Mira Mehrishi, head of the Indian delegation
  • "There's a lot of skepticism ... Research is necessary to see if it could be viable in one way or other" - Artur Runge-Metzger, European Commission
The most notable of these statements is from Rajendra Pachauri.  In 2009, Pachauri expressed cautious support for future CDR interventions: "At some point we will have to cross over and start sucking some of those [greenhouse] gases out of the atmosphere."  His words this week may presage renewed skepticism as the IPCC works to complete its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), including for the first time a section on geoengineering, by 2014.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

New Research Funding, Cost Analysis for UK CCS

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is accelerating its push for expanded CCS in Britain.  As it continues to evaluate finalists in its £1 billion ($1.6 billion) CCS Commercialization Program funding competition (see Short List Announced in UK CCS Funding Competition, 11/1), DECC has announced the first winners in a separate, £125 million ($200.3 million) R&D funding program.  (Both programs are part of the larger CCS Roadmap policy unveiled last spring--see UK Relaunches CCS Policy, 4/16.)  Thirteen grants totaling £18.3 million ($29.3 million) were announced as part of the first, £20 million ($32 million) round of the R&D competition.  Several awards were made to projects focusing specifically on CO2 transport and storage, including a storage modeling project led by Cambridge University and monitoring technology development led by Premier Oil.  A final project is currently under negotiation.

At the same time, a CCS Cost Reduction Task Force established by DECC earlier this year has released an interim report on its initial findings.  The key finding of the Task Force is that "UK gas and coal power stations equipped with carbon capture, transport and storage have clear potential to be cost competitive with other forms of low-carbon power generation, delivering electricity at a levelised cost approaching £100/MWh [$160/MWh] by the early 2020s, and at a cost significantly below £100/MWh soon thereafter" (p. i).  This estimate is based on detailed analysis of multiple cost factors including transport and storage investments, improvements in capture technology, lower borrowing costs, and synergies with CO2-EOR.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GEF Advised Not to Fund SRM, Support Possible for CDR

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), the world's largest environmental funding body, has been advised by its Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) to refrain from supporting SRM geoengineering projects, but that some CDR technologies such as BECCS and biochar may warrant funding support.  In a newly released advisory document, STAP concludes that,

Overall, it would appear that the GEF should avoid funding SRM projects until the risks and uncertainties are more clearly defined.  The GEF could consider supporting biological atmospheric CO2 removal projects that seem to have lower risk, but only after a greater understanding of costs and barriers from on-going R&D has been established.  Geoengineering may remain a potential option if the crossing of tipping points leading to abrupt climate change occurs, and if all other GHG reduction approaches fail. (p. 56)

If the Facility adopts this as official policy, there will be significant ripple effects across major international financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and African Development Bank (these and other organizations administer GEF-funded projects).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First Binational CO2 Storage Standard Released

CSA Group and the International Performance Assessment Center for Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide (IPAC-CO2) have jointly released the world's first binational standard for geologic storage of CO2.  The new standard (CSA Z741) is designed for use in both Canada and the US.  It is applicable to storage in saline aquifers and depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs, as well as EOR, and covers the entire project life cycle from site screening through post-closure.  Standards developers intend these new guidelines to serve as the foundation for International Standards Organization (ISO) efforts to create a global CO2 storage standard.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

CO2-EOR Tax Bill Introduced in US Senate

A new bill proposing changes to the existing CO2 sequestration tax credit has been introduced in the US Senate.  As it stands currently, the US tax code offers tax credits of $20 per metric ton of CO2 sequestered for conventional CCS operations, and $10 per metric ton for CO2-EOR.  S. 3581, put forward by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would convert this into a competitively awarded system managed by the Department of the Treasury.  Credits would be available for 10 years, with a total cap of 75 million metric tons.  This proposed modification was the key recommendation made by the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI) in a report issued earlier this year (see DAC and EOR, 4/22).  NEORI argues that this revision to the carbon storage credit would be revenue-positive, would quadruple US CO2-EOR production over 40 years, and would result in the permanent sequestration of 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Labeling Initiative Seeks to Promote Biochar-Grown Food

A new, Kansas-based initiative has been launched called "Cool-Food," which aims to institute a carbon smart food labeling system based on utilization of biochar.  Farmers seeking to use the label to differentiate their food must meet seven qualifications:

  1. A minimum amount of biochar per acre must be added to their farmland.
  2. A Farmer's Stewardship Pledge must be signed.
  3. A mineral soil test must be conducted.
  4. An organic carbon soil test must be conducted.
  5. A soil biology assessment must be carried out.
  6. A soil management plan must be developed.
  7. Sustainable marketing practices must be followed.
In addition to trademarking a Cool-Food logo for use in labeling, project proponents also intend to develop a Standards & Practices guide as well as a Grower's Manual to assist local farmers.  Outreach is already underway, and organizers hope to roll out the program next summer in Lawrence (home of the University of Kansas).  Backers of the project plan to apply for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New South Wales Adopts Cloud-Seeding Program

Weather modification, close cousin of geoengineering, received a boost recently in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), where the State Parliament has officially adopted a cloud-seeding program intended to enhance snowfall in the Snowy Mountains.  Parliamentarians hope that more snow  will bolster the local ski industry and increase water resources.  This new legislation follows field trials that are believed to have augmented snowfall by fourteen percent.  Similar programs have been implemented in Rocky Mountain states and provinces in North America.

Monday, November 5, 2012

LC/LP Joins in Condemnation of Haida Experiment

At the conclusion of joint meetings held in London last week, parties to the London Convention/London Protocol released a statement condemning the recent Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) ocean fertilization experiments off British Columbia: "The Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol (LC/LP) express grave concern regarding the deliberate ocean fertilization activity that was recently reported to have been carried out in July of 2012 in waters off the Canadian west coast."  The statement received unanimous backing, including from Canada and the US.

An attorney for HSRC and its parent Old Massett Village Council (OMVC) reacted with indignation.  "You know, this is a clash between big science and big NGOs, and village science and indigenous peoples," said Joe Spears.  He continued, "On a changing planet we need to have dialogue and discussion, you know.  Charles Darwin did not have a PhD, or he wasn't a tenured professor or he wasn't an NGO.  A lot of these are value judgments of people that have no understanding.  They're making statements.  It's irresponsible."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Short List Announced in UK CCS Funding Competition

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced four finalists in its £1 billion ($1.6 billion) CCS Commercialization Program funding competition, restructured and reintroduced earlier this year as the centerpiece of a national CCS Roadmap (see UK Relaunches CCS Policy, 4/16).  The finalists include:

  • Captain Clean Energy Project - A new 570 MW coal plant with pre-combustion capture in Grangemouth, Scotland, with offshore storage in depleted gas fields.
  • Peterhead - A 340 MW post-combustion retrofit to an existing gas plant in Peterhead, Scotland.
  • Teesside Low Carbon Project - A pre-combustion capture project linked to a coal gasification plant in England, with storage in both a depleted oil field and a saline aquifer.
  • White Rose Project - A new 304 MW coal-fired station with oxyfuel capture in North Yorkshire.
All shortlisted projects are fully integrated across the CCS value chain.  The Teesside and White Rose projects are also finalists for EU NER300 first round funding, although neither is considered a leading contender (see Update on NER300, 8/10).  Peterhead is on the NER300 reserve list for possible second round funding.  (The Don Valley project, a top NER300 candidate, was not submitted to the UK competition.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Biofuelwatch Moves on to BECCS

Biofuelwatch has stepped further into geoengineering with a new report titled "BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage): Climate Saviour or Dangerous Hype?"  This new critique of BECCS is uncomplicated, simply combining existing criticisms of bioenergy and CCS into a single line of attack:

The flaws in the claims made by ... BECCS proponents include:

+ high levels of uncertainty about the possibility of securely storing carbon underground and potential risks to human health and ecosystems associated with CCS;
+ faulty reasoning about the availability of plentiful biomass feedstocks, and the "neutrality" of biomass carbon emissions based on assumed regrowth and re-sequestration ...
+ high additional energy requirements for carbon capture, resulting in significantly more fuel demand to produce the same energy output. (pp. 1-2)

This is a logical next step for Biofuelwatch after its previous assaults on biochar (for example, see Biochar Fund Giving Biochar a Bad Name?, 12/8/11).  Considering the recent failure of ETC Group at CBD COP11, opponents of climate engineering need all the help they can get.  Tying geoengineering to familiar problems associated with biofuels represents a sensible political strategy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Schoppmann Declined Role in Haida OIF Scheme

Contrary to assertions made by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (see Loan Documents Shed Additional Light on HSRC, 10/23), Schoppmann & Partner AG, a Swiss consulting firm, never agreed to act as broker for carbon credits generated by the Haida Gwaii salmon restoration/carbon sequestration project.  No methodologies or protocols exist for creating ocean iron fertilization (OIF) offset credits, either now or in the past, under any jurisdiction in the world.  As such, "We saw the obstacle to not being able to sell the carbon credits, ever," said Alexander Schoppmann, who heads the firm.

Schoppmann previously partnered with Russ George, chief scientist for HSRC, in another failed OIF venture called Blue CO2, from 2009 to 2010.  Interestingly, Schoppmann is an outspoken climate change sckeptic, and believes major governments have conspired to create a global carbon tax in the form of the international offset market.  These views are difficult to reconcile with Russ George's frequent claims to be leading the charge against global climate change, but business can make for strange bedfellows.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review Clears SPICE Project

Five months after its proposed field test was cancelled (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17), the SPICE project has been cleared of conflict of interest charges.  Allegations centered on patent applications that were filed by SPICE personnel prior to the project but not disclosed as part of the "sandpit" project origination process.  Following cancellation of the field trial, the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a primary funding source for SPICE, conducted an after action review to sort out the mess.  EPSRC has now released its findings:

The review has concluded that the sandpit was carried out in accordance with standard EPSRC guidelines and the funding decisions taken at the sandpit were sound.  The review noted that, as a result of the patent applications, it was possible for an observer to develop a perception that conflicts of interest could exist but found that there was no evidence to suggest any individual used their position to influence the commitment of public funds for their own benefit.

This is good news, however, the damage is already done.  The lesson of this affair is that in a field as high-profile and controversial as geoengineering, perception can be as important as reality.  Going forward, it is important for researchers otherwise unaccustomed to intense public scrutiny and strong political cross-currents to keep this in mind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dalai Lama Willing to Look at Geoengineering

At a conference on ethics and the environment held at MIT last week, the Dalai Lama expressed openness toward geoengineering.  In the course of a panel discussion, a faculty member attacked climate engineering as poorly understood, risky, and potentially ineffective.  In response, the Dalai Lama warned against dismissing the technology prematurely, declaring "It is our responsibility to look."  One can only hope that such open-mindedness will inspire others to approach geoengineering with a greater degree of receptivity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Loan Documents Shed Additional Light on HSRC Project

Financial documents relating to the Haida Gwaii OIF experiment are now circulating (courtesy of the Living Oceans Society, a Canadian marine conservation group), offering additional details on project conception and funding.  The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), which carried out the field test, was a creation of the Old Massett Village Council (OMVC), one of two local "band" (First Nations) governments in Haida Gwaii.  With parity funding from the nonprofit Gwai Trust Society, HSRC obtained a loan for CAD$2.5 million ($2.5 million) from the Northern Savings Credit Union.

Interestingly, in its evaluation of the HSRC loan application, the credit union raised a number of red flags: failure to identify credible scientific authorities who back the project; lack of clarity regarding the offset crediting process; inadequate regulatory undertakings; questions surrounding the reputation and background of Russ George.  HSRC identified Schoppmann, a Swiss firm, as a willing buyer of offsets for the German carbon market, but the credit union found little evidence to substantiate this.  Despite these concerns, the loan was approved on the following logic:

Clearly, this credit as structured really represents a loan being made on a fully secured basis ... and as such one might argue that you are clearly borrowing your own money.  Whilst this does certainly give considerable comfort to your banking partner, there is from our perspective a requirement to provide you with our candid opinion of the risks associated with this project.  In this way we can clearly say we have assisted our members to the best of our ability in having them recognize the risks associated should they choose to proceed.

Just as clearly, HSRC CEO John Disney and other company officials felt these risks were either minimal or mitigated.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nothing New Emerges from CBD COP11

CBD COP11 in Hyderabad has closed, and its results look set to have little impact on the current state of international regulation of geoengineering.  As noted last week (see Haida Scandal Appears Uninfluential in Hyderabad, 10/19), a deal was reached prior to the final proceedings in which geoengineering opponents agreed to drop their demand for an enforceable test ban, while those countries more open to research agreed to "reaffirm" the existing (non-binding) moratorium.  Opponents were led by Ethiopia, and other prominent critics included Indonesia, Timor Leste, and, of course, Bolivia.  Australia led those arrayed against a test ban, which also included Norway, Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the EU.  The closing plenary formally adopted this agreement on Friday.

The ETC Group and its compatriots were pushing for a full geoengineering test ban, and they disseminated the Haida OIF story with this goal in mind (see OIF Accusations Fly at CBD COP11, 10/17).  However, the outcome of the Hyderabad meeting is essentially the status quo ante.  As such, the final result must be regarded as a loss for opponents of geoengineering, who failed to achieve any more restrictions on research despite staging a world-class public relations campaign.  The LC/LP COP is scheduled to open next Monday in London, and critics will be sure to keep pushing the ocean fertilization controversy in hopes of gaining something tangible out of the unfortunate Haida affair.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Haida Experiment Appears to Violate CBD and LC/LP

An initial examination of the available evidence indicates that the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) ocean fertilization experiment conducted off the coast of British Columbia last July did constitute violations of both the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the London Convention/London Protocol (LC/LP) on ocean dumping.  Specifically, CBD Decision IX/16 explicitly prohibits research "used for generating and selling carbon offsets or any other commercial purposes."  Likewise, Resolution LC/LP.1 (2008) prohibits research that has not "been assessed and found acceptable under the assessment framework," a formal evaluation mechanism that must be used by member governments to determine the legitimacy of any proposed experiment.  Neither HSRC nor Russ George has disputed allegations that the Haida experiment was intended to generate and sell offset credits, nor have they provided any evidence that their scheme was approved by the Canadian government under the LC/LP Assessment Framework.  Given this, it is incumbent upon all supporters of geoengineering research to disavow and condemn the work of HSRC and Russ George, and indeed this has been the constant refrain from leading researchers since the story first broke.

Note: Text was updated on 10/24 to clarify responsible parties under Resolution LC/LP.1 (2008).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Haida Scandal Appears Uninfluential in Hyderabad

Despite the hoopla of the past few days, reports on controversial OIF experiments conducted under the auspices of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) appear to be having little impact on formal proceedings at CBD COP11 in Hyderabad.  News from the conference indicates a deal has been struck between those countries pushing for a tougher line on geoengineering, and others resistant to any further restrictions on research.  A core agreement seems to have been reached between Ethiopia and Australia, according to which opponents of geoengineering have given up their demand for an enforceable test ban, in exchange for a "reaffirmation" of the 2010 moratorium (including, crucially, its non-binding status).  The final text of the decision must still be adopted by the full conference.

The full story remains murky back in Canada.  Federal Minister of the Environment Peter Kent (Conservative) declared, "If this happened, it would be in violation of Canada's Environment Protection Act."  Environment Canada has launched a formal probe into the matter, but refuses further comment.  Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, remarked, "The fact that Federal officials may have known about this and let it to happen is disturbing.  Have they allowed a Californian rogue investor to play with fire at the expense of Canada's environment?  I never thought I'd see something like this happen in my country."  Meanwhile, Russ George and HSRC have organized a press conference in Vancouver scheduled for later today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

ETC Group Goes After Canadian Government

In the aftermath of Monday's Haida ocean fertilization story (see OIF Accusations Fly at CBD COP11, 10/17), John Disney, (non-native) president of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), has indicated in a CBC Radio interview that his company was comprehensively engaged with the Canadian federal government prior to its July OIF experiment, and will cooperate fully with the government going forward.  Armed with these statements, the Guardian is strongly suggesting that the Canadian government granted approval for the field test.  The ETC Group is predictably outraged--in the words of Jim Thomas, Research Program Manager, "To clear these serious allegations of complicity the Canadian government needs to speak out and account for these events.  Officials need to condemn this dump as a breach of Canadian laws and take swift action against geoengineering: in Haida Gwaii that means initiating measures against Russ George and any Canadians involved, while in Hyderabad that means backing a global test ban."

Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, the ETC Group has branded Canada one of the "four horsemen of geoengineering," along with the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, for resisting attempts to enhance the CBD moratorium and institute a test ban.  The CBD Alliance, a civil society network that shares ideological affinities with ETC Group, presented "Dodo Awards" to both Canada and the UK for supposed damage done to biodiversity resulting from their receptivity to climate engineering research.  A contact group of government representatives continues to discuss outstanding technical and legal issues.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OIF Accusations Fly at CBD COP11

The ETC Group and sympathetic reporters from the Guardian newspaper have orchestrated a mini-scandal timed to coincide with deliberations about the CBD moratorium currently taking place at the eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP11) in Hyderabad, India.  On Monday, the Guardian published a story alleging that Russ George, one-time head of disgraced ocean iron fertilization (OIF) company Planktos, tricked Canada's Haida tribe into supporting what it believed was a salmon restoration project, but was in reality an illegal scheme to generate offset credits for sale on the international carbon market.  According to the story, George manipulated the native community on the island of Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia, into setting up the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) and used tribal money to fund the release of 100 metric tons of iron sulphate in the northern Pacific last summer, designed to cause phytoplankton blooms over a 10,000-square kilometer area.  The release is described as a "blatant violation" of both the CBD and LC/LP moratoriums.  The Guardian credits ETC group with uncovering the scheme.

For the moment, it is unclear what actually happened.  The fact that this story was published by the Guardian warrants skepticism about its accuracy, completeness, and fairness.  The Guardian has earned a deserved reputation for biased, sloppy reporting on geoengineering that renders any story it publishes on the subject dubious (see More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian, 7/19).  The Guardian alleges that George received assistance from NASA for his experiments, but there is no evidence of this.  Nor is there evidence of any intent to convert Haida OIF activities into carbon credits, or indeed how this could be accomplished in the absence of any recognized international offset methodology.  These assertions may turn out to be true, but the Guardian long ago lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reporting on geoengineering.

The prime source of information for this story appears to have been the ETC Group, which is unapologetic in its opposition to all forms of geoengineering.  The ETC Group is present at COP11 and has even released its own program of action for the meeting (see ETC Group Lays Out Wish List for CBD COP11, 10/10).  The publication of this story was clearly timed to advance the group's stated goals in Hyderabad by attempting to associate any geoengineering research with the questionable past and present activities of Russ George.

George has his own agenda too, although its content remains fuzzy.  In a briefing attributed to HSRC, the project is described solely in terms of salmon restoration, with no mention of carbon sequestration or offset credits.  But George's checkered past cannot be overlooked, and there is justified suspicion that these experiments are nothing more than OIF repackaged as fish restoration, purportedly intended to revitalize the cultural and economic life of an indigenous people.  Just as the Guardian has forfeited any assumption of reliability when it comes to geoengineering, Russ George's earlier Planktos antics make any current claims of ethical, responsible behavior impossible to accept at face value.

With the facts unclear, it is also impossible to determine whether any "violations" of the CBD or LC/LP took place.  As the ETC Group intended, the Haida controversy has quickly become a topic of conversation in Hyderabad.  In all likelihood, the story will have little substantive impact on the outcome of the conference, as there does not appear to be a consensus in favor of tightening existing decisions.  But such meetings have been known to take unexpected turns, and the ETC Group is unquestionably savvy at playing politics within the CBD.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A/R Credits Issued to Ethiopian Reforestation Project

An innovative Ethiopian conservation initiative, known as the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration project, has been issued 73,000 temporary Certified Emission Reductions (tCERs) by the CDM.  The project, managed jointly by World Vision Ethiopia, World Vision Australia, and the Ethiopian government, involves local communities restoring native vegetation, planting new species, and limiting cattle grazing--these efforts have helped reforest 2,728 hectares in southwestern Ethiopia.  All credits have been purchased by the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund, and all proceeds will be channeled back into local communities.  Humbo A/R credits represent the second such issuance by the CDM (following the Plantar Project in Brazil--see CDM Issues First A/R Credits for Brazil Project, 4/18), and the first for Africa.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ETC Group Lays Out Wish List for CBD COP11

The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is now underway in Hyderabad, India, and the Canada-based ETC Group has released its anti-geoengineering program for the meeting.  This document, titled "The ABCs of Ensuring Precaution on Geoengineering," details five steps the group believes should be taken by the conference.  Each item warrants comment.

"A: AFFIRM the moratorium."  The ETC Group has long portrayed the 2010 CBD geoengineering moratorium more as an ironclad ban than as the voluntary, temporary, and conditional suspension of activities that it actually constitutes under international law.  Developments since 2010 have underscored the relativity of the moratorium.  For example, last month the UK government acknowledged the legal force of the moratorium in the context of declaring official support for geoengineering research (see UK Government Officially Supports Research, 9/28).  Critics such as ETC Group are anxious to stop this slide away from their absolutist vision.

"B: BAN open-air tests."  Calling for an open-air test ban only underlines the real-world limitations of the CBD moratorium, however, it also gives ETC Group an opportunity to repeat discredited stories about imminent field trials such as a recent false report on supposed SRM testing in New Mexico (see More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian, 7/19).  The ETC Group presents a test of its own for evaluating possible field trials: a field test should be prohibited if it 1) could impact biodiversity, 2) would occur in the global commons, or 3) is intended to develop SRM technology.  Virtually any realistic field test could be construed as violating at least one of these three criteria, which is precisely the point of the framework.

"C: CREATE monitoring capacity."  On this point, the ETC Group and proponents of geoengineering research should be able to agree.  Robust monitoring of geoengineering research is important for increasing transparency and building trust, and, if performed in a nonintrusive manner, would ultimately serve to enhance the geoengineering knowledge base.  Of course, it is important that any monitoring mechanism be as neutral and objective as possible--ETC Group offers to assist in this regard, which is a non-starter.

"D: DEFEND the role of the CBD in decisionmaking on geoengineering and biodiversity."  This picks up a thread started by the ETC Group at a CBD meeting held in Montreal earlier this year.  For a variety of reasons, the CBD offers ETC Group a particularly favorable arena within which to pursue its anti-geoengineering agenda (for more, see Inconclusive Results from Montreal CBD Meeting, 5/7).  As other international bodies such as the IPCC begin to take up climate engineering, the ETC Group is jealous to preserve its role as a big fish in the small CBD pond.

"E: ENSURE proper participation of indigenous and local communities in decisionmaking on geoengineering."  This is another point on which ETC Group and its opponents should be able to agree.  Indigenous and local communities have historically been denied voices in international decision-making on virtually every issue of global significance, and they will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change.  It is important not to presume how these groups will feel about potential geoengineering solutions.  It is also important not to assume that ETC Group speaks on their behalf, since this is far from self-evident.

Right now, there is little to suggest that anything substantial related to geoengineering will emerge from the Hyderabad conference.  The relevant recommendation from the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) calls for no significant changes, and the moratorium is likely to persist as is.  Updates will follow as necessary.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Global CCS Institute Pleads for Less Renewables Support

In a recent address before the European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy, Brad Page, CEO of the Global CCS Institute, made the case that public support for renewable energy is working against CCS development.  Speaking before the energy office's "CCS Roundtable: Addressing the Short-Term Challenges for the CCS Demonstration Program," Page asserted that "government action to encourage renewable energy is distorting the operation of otherwise efficient energy markets.  It also distorts the development of new and emerging technologies often favouring ultimately more expensive alternatives.  Increasingly CCS appears to be a victim of this reality."  He continued: "In our view, government policy to support the development and deployment of low and zero emission technologies ... should move back from favouring particular technologies.  Policy settings need to be more neutral."  The Institute is not simply an interest group active in European energy policy, but serves as the official secretariat for the European CCS Demonstration Project Network, so it will be interesting to see what repercussions if any follow from this speech.

Friday, September 28, 2012

UK Government Officially Supports Research

The UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has announced official government support for research into climate engineering.  In a new internet posting, DECC states,

Should the need ever arise to deploy geo-engineering techniques in the future, a thorough understanding of all the options available to counteract dangerous climate change and knowledge of their risks and benefits will be needed.  This understanding can only be developed through relevant, careful and responsible multi-disciplinary research.  The Government is supportive of the need to undertake such studies, in accordance with Decision X/33 and Article 14 of the CBD and relevant agreements such as the London Convention and its Protocol.

(CBD Decision X/33 refers to the limited, conditional moratorium adopted in 2010--see The Meaning of the Moratorium, 10/31/10--and Article 14 refers to minimizing adverse environmental impacts.  The London Convention/London Protocol has adopted an ocean fertilization research assessment framework potentially adaptable to other geoengineering techniques--see LC/LP Agrees on Ocean Fertilization Assessment Framework, 10/19/10.)

Government affirmation of support for geoengineering research is important because it helps to mainstream and legitimize an otherwise controversial field.  Public affirmation is particularly important following the recent cancellation of the government-funded SPICE stratospheric aerosol technology field test (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17), which has cast a pall over research efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.  The ultimate significance of this newly clarified position will depend on whether additional government funding is forthcoming, as well as whether this British decision opens the way for other Western government agencies (US DOE?) to take stronger measures in support of geoengineering research.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Call for Immediate Arctic Deployment Dismissed by UK Parliamentary Committee

Last February, the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee held a public hearing on the threat to the Arctic posed by global climate change (see Environmental Audit Committee Hearing in the UK, 2/25).  At this hearing, members of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) appealed for immediate Arctic geoengineering to avert the disappearance of summer sea-ice, permafrost thaw, and a possible "methane bomb."  AMEG's call received a cool reception at the hearing, and an official committee report released last week echoes this initial skepticism.  On the question of geoengineering, the committee concludes:

Geo-engineering techniques for the Arctic at present do not offer a credible long-term solution for tackling climate change.  Further research is needed to understand how such techniques work and their wider impacts on climate systems.  In the meantime, therefore, we remain unconvinced that using 'technical fixes' is the right approach and efforts should not be diverted from tackling the fundamental drivers of climate change. (23, boldface original)

In public relations terms, the timing of this release was particularly unfortunate, since last week also saw official word from the the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that Arctic sea-ice receded to the lowest extent ever recorded in September, a disturbing milestone that was widely reported in the scientific and popular press.

All this perfectly illustrates the wrongheadedness of AMEG's approach.  By adopting a maximalist position of geoengineering deployment now, AMEG and its sympathizers left MPs no real choice but to reject geoengineering as a plausible strategy for coping with rapid warming in the Arctic.  As indicated above, some members of the committee actually expressed willingness to support intensified research into climate engineering, but this of course is insufficient from AMEG's point of view, and, confronted with a demand to deploy immediately, parliamentarians unsurprisingly responded in the negative.  As a result, geoengineering emerges tarred in the public sphere, at a tragically opportune moment that might otherwise have served to galvanize support for expanded geoengineering research.

This sequence of events hardly dooms the push for accelerated research, and indeed is unlikely to have any meaningful repercussions beyond the short term.  Yet it does underline the need for greater political sophistication on the part of a small but vocal segment of the geoengineering community.  More importantly, this episode underscores the continuing need for the cautious and sensible majority of the community to disavow alarmism, distance themselves from extreme proposals, and make the reasoned and right case for more geoengineering research now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

WWF Supports Geoengineering Research

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), arguably the world's most influential environmental group, now cautiously supports research into geoengineering strategies to cope with global climate change.  Earlier this week on the Huffington Post, Jon Taylor, Climate Change Program Manager at WWF-UK, framed the dilemma geoengineering presents for organizations like WWF in the following terms: "Clearly in a perfect world we wouldn't support the idea of deliberately tampering with the Earth's atmosphere.  But to paraphrase the old joke, if you were to ask us how to get to a sustainable future, we wouldn't start from here."  In light of current atmospheric carbon concentrations and likely future trajectories, Taylor continues, "alongside our main efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smarter use of sustainable energy and through reducing and reversing deforestation, WWF is cautiously supporting research into geo-engineering approaches in order to find out what is possible."

This is a significant development.  WWF is a major player in global environmental politics, helps set the pace for many other environmental and conservation NGOs, and serves as a critical point of reference for concerned citizens across the globe.  It is clear from the post that WWF is not enthusiastic about climate engineering, and that it is much less comfortable with SRM compared to CDR techniques (indeed, WWF has expressed support for some carbon removal methods on previous occasions).  It also remains to be seen how such a position articulated by WWF-UK will be received by other members of the international WWF network.  But as an organizational statement of principled support for research into geoengineering, both CDR and SRM, this marks an important step forward in the global discussion on the urgency of responsible research and testing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

CO2-EOR Pushes Pipelines Across US Rocky Mountain West

The continuing spread of enhanced oil recovery using CO2 (CO2-EOR) in the US is resulting in expansions to existing CO2 pipeline networks, particularly in the northern Rocky Mountains.  Two recent cases illustrate this development.  The first involves the August restart of construction on the 232-mile Greencore pipeline running from the ConocoPhillips Lost Cabin gas plant in Wyoming to the Bell Creek oilfield in Montana (an auxiliary line will also transport CO2 to the Cedar Creek Anticline field).  Denbury Resources plans to spend an estimated $275-$325 million to complete the pipeline, which will have a capacity of 700 million cubic feet per day.  Construction on the Greencore pipeline is permitted only between August and November each year due to federal wildlife protection rules.

Also in Wyoming, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted final approval in July to Elk Petroleum for a new EOR project at the Grieve oilfield near Casper.  Elk co-owns the field with Denbury Resources, and Denbury will capitalize on its pipeline experience by building a three-mile extension line from the pre-existing Anadarko CO2 pipeline.  The Grieve project is expected to be operational by November.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Study Reiterates Affordability of Stratospheric Aerosol Systems

A new cost analysis of various stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) systems provides additional, up-to-date evidence that deploying such systems looks to be a relatively cheap proposition.  Using cost models adapted from the aerospace industry, the study's authors calculate cost estimates for six potential delivery systems: existing airplanes, new airplanes, blimps, rockets, guns, and pipe-balloon platforms (as considered by the SPICE project).  Based on a dispersion rate of 1 million metric tonnes of sulfur dioxide per year, new airplanes specifically designed for SAI payload delivery appear to be the most cost-effective technology option, with yearly costs estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion (existing aircraft would cost slightly more, in the range of $1 billion to $3 billion).  Pipe-balloon systems are estimated to cost between $4 billion and $10 billion per year, while rocket-powered gliders are estimated to be the most expensive (and least feasible) option costing approximately $390 billion per year.

Aside from these various estimates, which the authors are careful to note reflect many uncertainties, the overarching point of the analysis is that the costs of SAI geoengineering are likely to represent a tiny fraction of the costs associated with either unmitigated climate change or a program of robust emissions abatement.  As the authors put it, "When SRM is considered as one element of climate strategy that also includes mitigation and adaptation, it is meaningful to compare costs and in this sense one can conclude that the cost of SRM deployment of quantities sufficient to alter radiative forcing by an amount roughly equivalent to the growth of anticipated GHG forcing over the next half century is low ..." (pp. 6-7).  This is not to say that SAI or other forms of geoengineering should be pursued at the expense of mitigation, but rather that SAI and other technologies offer complementary strategies that policymakers cannot afford to ignore.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ADB Supports CCS in China

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced a $2.2 million support package for CCS in China.  The core of this funding will go to assist the Chinese government in developing a national roadmap for CCS demonstration and deployment.  The roadmap is expected to involve construction of at least two large-scale demonstration projects by 2016, with a total installed capture capacity of at least 2 million tons of CO2 per year.  ADB grant support will be delivered through the Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, co-created by the Global CCS Institute in 2009.  The UK will also contribute funding support as part of its revamped roadmap launched last April (see UK Relaunches CCS Policy, 4/16).  With its economic might, reliance on coal reserves, aggressive carbon policy (including plans for seven regional emissions trading pilots starting next year), and political influence (particularly in the developing world), a successful push for CCS in China would significantly boost the prospects for capture and sequestration technologies across the globe.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Biochar Gaining Ground With Co-Benefits

Apart from its carbon sequestration potential, biochar is notable for the multiplicity of agricultural, land-use, and other "co-benefits" that accompany its production and use.  Recent developments underline the  importance of such co-benefits for accelerating wider adoption of biochar technology.  This past week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a series of awards and grants as part of its "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" to improve sanitation in the developing world.  Loughborough University in the UK was awarded a first-round $60,000 second place prize for designing a next-generation toilet that produces biochar, minerals, and clean water.  The University of Colorado Boulder won a nearly $780,000 second-round grant to develop a toilet that uses concentrated solar power to convert waste to biochar for use in farming.  The private firm re:char was also awarded funding to help develop a biochar sanitation system.

Co-benefits are also propelling biochar forward in the energy sector.  Zero Point Clean Tech recently announced the successful deployment of its second biomass gasification power plant in Ireland (the first is operating in Germany).  These conversion facilities produce both syngas for combined heat and power, and biochar for agricultural purposes.  In the US, Whitfield Biochar is preparing to unveil its Continuous Feed Biochar Reactor, a biomass-based district heating unit that also generates biochar.  The company plans to install biochar heating plants at locations in California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania starting in the fourth quarter of this year.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Update on NER300

Last month the European Commission issued a working document providing an update on the status of award decisions under the EU NER300 funding program for CCS and renewables projects (for more on NER300 see ZEP to Rescue CCS in Europe?, 3/1).  To date, the Commission (along with the European Investment Bank, or EIB) has sold 140 million of the initial 200 million EUAs available for monetization, raising approximately 1.14 billion ($1.4 billion).  The Commission ultimately expects to raise between 1.3 and 1.5 billion for first round awards, 60% of which will go to support two or three CCS demonstration projects.  (NER300 was originally expected to generate approximately 3.3 billion in first round funds with the majority going to support 8 CCS projects, but this estimate has shrunk by half as allowance prices have plummeted.)

According to the Commission, the top three CCS candidates for round one funding include (in order of selection):

  1. Don Valley Power Project (UK)--Features pre-combustion capture technology at a 900 MW coal-fired IGCC power plant, with offshore storage
  2. Belchatow CCS Project (Poland)--Post-combustion capture at an 868 MW coal-fired plant, with onshore storage
  3. Green Hydrogen (Netherlands)--Industrial application at a hydrogen plant with shoreline storage
Final award decisions are expected by the end of this year.  A second funding round will follow to close out the program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

European Biochar Standards Under Development

The EU is now providing nearly 3 million ($3.7 million) to a project titled "Reducing Mineral Fertilisers and Chemicals Use in Agriculture by Recycling Treated Organic Waste as Compost and Bio-Char Products," also known as the REFERTIL Consortium.  The goal of the project is to develop product standards for biochar (and compost) in anticipation of a future Commission-led market-wide harmonization effort.  The four-year REFERTIL project is being led by Terra Humana, a Hungarian cleantech firm.  As with other current EU-supported geoengineering-related research work (see Update on EU-Funded Research, 7/19), REFERTIL is funded under the FP7 R&D support framework.  The relationship between any eventual EU biochar standards and the global standards recently published by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI--see IBI Issues First Biochar Standards, 6/3) is unclear.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Renewed Call for BECCS in Europe

The European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBTP) and the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), working together in a self-styled Joint Taskforce (JTF) Bio-CCS, have released a new report calling for renewed commitment to BECCS in Europe.  The groups contend that BECCS represents the only viable large-scale negative emissions technology available, and as such BECCS will be essential for the EU in meeting its various climate targets over the next several decades.  To accelerate deployment, the report argues, "A key prerequisite is the maturation and commercialisation of CCS and advanced, sustainable biofuels production.  Bio-CCS is already being carried out on an industrial scale - but not in Europe, mainly because negative emissions are not rewarded in the EU ETS.  Dedicated funding for pilot projects to prove advanced technologies and close any knowledge gaps is also urgently required" (p. 23, emphasis original).  Specific recommendations include:

  1. Immediate action by the EU and Member States to shore up support for CCS demonstration projects
  2. Go for low-hanging fruit such as biofuels production (which generates a near-pure CO2 stream)
  3. Boost research on advanced, second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol
  4. Strengthen BECCS value chains (capture, transport, storage)
  5. Take advantage of potentially greater public openness to BECCS compared to conventional CCS
However, as ZEP itself has noted elsewhere (see ZEP to Rescue CCS in Europe?, 3/1), it is difficult to see how these steps can be effective in the absence of a more fundamental realignment of supply and demand in the EU ETS.  EUAs are currently priced at a mere 7.17 ($8.89), offering virtually no structural incentive for covered installations to reduce their carbon footprints.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Is CCS for Oil Sands Going Too Far?

Last month the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board announced conditional approval for the Royal Dutch Shell Quest CCS project located near Fort Saskatchewan.  If built, Quest would be the world's first CCS project for an oil sands facility.  Shell, along with project partners Chevron and Marathon Oil, is scheduled to make a Final Investment Decision later this year.

Among those who advocate more research into climate engineering, CCS is generally supported since it overlaps in significant ways with several potential CDR strategies.  However, oil sands and associated infrastructure (for example, the Keystone Pipeline) have become the bete noire of the environmental movement, and not undeservedly given the high carbon content of tar sands-derived oil (12% more GHGs per barrel than conventional oil) combined with the considerable ecological damage that results from extraction activities.  This creates a quandary for supporters of geoengineering research: should CCS for oil sands be welcomed as another opportunity to develop technologies that may prove critical to certain methods of large-scale atmospheric carbon dioxide removal? or should oil sands CCS be rejected as industrial-size "greenwashing" designed to promote the consumption of an especially dirty fossil fuel?

To answer this question, it is useful to revisit the underlying case for supporting CCS from a geoengineering perspective.  The starting point is to recognize that several leading CDR technologies share critical subsystems with CCS.  There are three main links in the traditional CCS chain: point-source capture, transport, and storage.  From this point of view, Direct Air Capture (DAC) differs fundamentally from conventional CCS only in that it captures carbon from the ambient air, and CO2 transport and storage figure as integral components.  Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is, as its name indicates, simply one form of CCS, distinguished by its reliance on biomass combustion and promise of negative emissions.  With substantial funding going to support conventional CCS projects, and minimal funding going to support DAC and BECCS, it makes sense to back CCS projects with broad application to CDR techniques while focusing available geoengineering support on technical problems unique to climate remediation technologies.

Beyond this instrumental argument, CCS is also necessary in its own right.  The fact of the matter is that any realistic path toward avoiding the 2 degrees Celsius threshold entails significant reliance on CCS.  This point was made convincingly by the IEA in its authoritative 2009 CCS Technology Roadmap, which demonstrated that without CCS, the cost of reducing global emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 would increase by 70%.  Put simply, fossil fuels remain plentiful and will continue to be used, and CCS will be essential to moderating their climate impact.

The development of CCS technology has been slow, piecemeal, and insufficient, particularly in industrial applications (see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16).  Indeed, while oil sands are recovered in order to manufacture fuel for energy production, oil sands CCS actually represents an industrial application in which CO2 is captured during the upgrading process and stored in geologic formations (the Shell Quest project would sequester CO2 siphoned from the local Scotford upgrader).  Furthermore, although oil sands are a relatively new addition to the world's hydrocarbon stocks, as with coal, oil, and gas, it is hugely unrealistic to expect they will not be exploited in coming decades, with or without CCS.

We are thus confronted with the following points:

  • CCS deserves support both for its essential role in emissions mitigation and its strategic contribution to CDR technology development.
  • Absent a worldwide economic revolution, fossil fuel consumption will continue at a high rate over the next century.  Unconventional oil from tar sands will constitute a growing percentage of global fossil fuel consumption.
  • CCS must be applied to both power generation and industrial sectors.
Given this situation, the geoengineering research community can either a) oppose the use of CCS in oil sands, which logically entails higher carbon emissions and less effort devoted to research that is applicable to CDR techniques, or b) support the use of CCS in oil sands, which implies reduced emissions and more research on key CDR technologies.  Rejecting oil sands CCS will do virtually nothing to discourage the exploitation of tar sands, while dispensing with a potentially large volume of valuable analysis, insights, and experience.  Instead, oil sands CCS should be accepted and taken advantage of as the least bad option in an imperfect world, an option that might pay significant dividends if given a chance.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Another Report Looks at Induced Seismicity from CCS

Stanford University researchers recently published a study claiming that CCS operations can induce significant seismic events and therefore do not offer a credible mitigation option (see Geologic Storage and Earthquakes?, 6/23).  Now the National Research Council (NRC) of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has offered its view on the subject.  In the prepublication version of a new report on induced seismicity and energy technologies, the NRC emphasizes that any connection between CCS and seismic activity is unclear: "The link of induced seismicity from CCS is currently difficult to accurately assess.  With only few small-scale commercial projects overseas and several small-scale demonstration projects underway in the United States, few data are available to evaluate the induced seismicity potential of this technology" (pp. 8-9).  To the extent that any risk might exist, it could be minimized by maintaining reservoir pore pressure close to its original value.  There is currently no record of any "felt induced events" connected to any CCS operations in the US, nor to any of the approximately 13,000 EOR projects across the country.  The NRC report suggests, as before, that while precautions should always be taken, risks are insufficient to prevent the further development and deployment of CCS technology.

Monday, July 30, 2012

FEMA Staff Launch Unofficial Biochar Initiative

Staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US national disaster response agency, have launched an effort to integrate biochar into official FEMA activities.  This new group, calling itself the FEMA BioChar Initiative (FBCI), is pursuing two specific goals: first, to make post-disaster debris management activities that entail collection of biomass feedstocks for biochar manufacture eligible for FEMA funding; and second, to incorporate biochar cost-benefit analyses within FEMA decision-making procedures and processes.  The FBCI is not formally affiliated with FEMA, but consists of FEMA employees working in their personal capacities along with other biochar industry stakeholders.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New York Adopts CCS Performance Standard

Last March, the US EPA proposed a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for new power plants which would effectively require that coal-fired units come equipped with CCS technology (see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16).  Now the state of New York has adopted an even tougher standard, beating the federal government to the punch.  Specifically, in June the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted regulation 6 NYCRR Part 251 (as mandated by the Power NY Act of 2011).  This rule requires most new or expanded fossil-fuel fired plants to meet either an emission output limit of 925 pounds of CO2 per MWh, or a fuel input limit of 120 pounds per MMBTU (by contrast, the draft national NSPS would impose a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWh).  The practical effect of this new regulation will be to require new coal-fired plants and significant coal plant expansions in New York to be fitted with CCS.  The rule came into force on July 12.

As for the proposed NSPS, an extended public comment period is currently underway.

Friday, July 27, 2012

German Greens Weigh In

The German Green Party has added its voice to the burgeoning conversation about climate engineering in Germany.  On Monday, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, a Green think-tank, released a report titled "Geo-Engineering: Is There a Plan(et) B?."  While the report is deeply skeptical toward geoengineering, it also calls for broad public dialogue and opposes any blanket prohibition on research. Indeed, the report suggests 8 "policy guidelines" to help shape future developments in the field (pp. 52-54, English translations):

  1. Governance issues must always be resolved before use.
  2. Independent testing is essential.
  3. There must be public participation in decisions about geo-engineering.
  4. Research must be transparent and results must be accessible.
  5. Geo-engineering should not be driven by economic profit.
  6. A binding international moratorium on applications and experiments along the lines of that suggested by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is necessary.
  7. International cooperation in research is also needed.
  8. The best climate policy is CO2 emissions avoidance.
At first glance, guideline 6 supporting a CBD-type moratorium might seem inconsistent with the other recommendations.  But such apparent contradiction is solely an artifact of the erroneous view propagated by ETC Group and others that the CBD moratorium is an outright ban, which it is not.  The CBD moratorium is a voluntary, temporary, and conditional suspension of large-scale and commercial geoengineering activities instituted in the absence of a governing international regulatory framework (see The Meaning of the Moratorium, 10/31/10).  The articulation of policy guidelines for geoengineering research and development that incorporate a limited, CBD-style moratorium undercuts any claim that a definitive ban has been adopted by the international community.  Moreover, the formulation of such guidelines by no less a natural ally than the German Green Party must cause considerable consternation among ETC Group and its friends.

Developments in Germany over the past few weeks seem to be turning conventional wisdom on its head.  One might expect to see the conservative CDU, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the allied, free-market Free Democratic Party (FDP) cautiously supportive of geoengineering research, and the SPD and Greens implacably opposed.  Instead, the governing CDU appears markedly unenthusiastic about federally-funded research, while the SPD and Greens advocate limited but meaningful research on the grounds that our worst option is to make decisions about geoengineering in ignorance of its full range of costs and benefits.  Perhaps this exchange will prompt the CDU to take a more sophisticated and proactive stance on climate engineering.

(Thanks to Jesse Reynolds for bringing the HBF report to my attention.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

German Government Preserves Options in Response to SPD

The German federal government, led by the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has formally responded to a long list of questions about geoengineering recently submitted by the opposition SPD (see German SPD Gives Careful Consideration to Geoengineering, 6/20).  The government was generally noncommittal in its answers, noting the lack of current or planned research initiatives, pleading ignorance with regard to many governance issues, and refusing to take definitive positions.  Following are some highlights (all English translations):

  • In response to question 7 ("What role does the Federal Government see for geoengineering in the limitation of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era?"), the government states that it "has no defined role for geoengineering in order to limit global warming."  This non-answer is typical of many responses.
  • In response to question 9 ("Does the Federal Government believe that geoengineering entails many risks and cannot replace the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?"), the government affirms that it "shares this view."
  • In response to question 18 ("How does the Federal Government view the risks of geoengineering compared to the risks of climate change, and does the Federal Government believe that sufficient scientific evidence is available for an appropriate evaluation?"), the government "recognizes the need for research on geoengineering, involving suitable, appropriate expertise to evaluate the effects, consequences, and risks of geoengineering."  In relation to this, the government later describes itself as "critical" of research moratoriums (question 43).
  • Throughout its responses the government clearly aligns itself with last year's agnostic BMBF report (see Two New German Government Reports, 12/19/11), reflecting a combination of studied neutrality and cautious receptivity.
The government repeatedly states that no federally-funded research is underway now or envisioned for the future.  This lack of government research on geoengineering has been criticized by the SPD in reaction to these official government responses.  Rene Rospel, deputy spokesman for SPD research policy, described the responses as "Thin answers with little substance."  "It is surprising and regrettable that so little happens in the field," he continued.  "Germany must not be clueless when new technologies are being used elsewhere" (English translation).  This is consistent with the considered opposition to geoengineering previously exhibited by the SPD.  The absence of government-funded research also contrasts sharply with the growing involvement of German universities and other institutions in pan-European research projects (see Update on EU-Funded Research, 7/19).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Second Chance for OIF?

Following the LOHAFEX misadventure and a string of studies casting doubt on its efficacy (see IOC Releases Ocean Fertilization Policy Guide, 1/26/11), ocean iron fertilization (OIF) has recently lost favor as a potential CO2 removal technique.  A new study published in Nature, however, suggests that OIF may have a climate remediation role to play after all.  In 2004, the European Iron Fertilization Experiment (EIFEX), led by Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (who also led the LOHAFEX expedition), conducted tests using iron sulphate in the Southern Ocean.  Results from those tests indicate that the remains of at least half of the ensuing diatom phytoplankton bloom sank to a depth of at least 1,000 meters, thereby confirming the sequestration hypothesis central to OIF.  (It is unclear why it took more than eight years to publish these results.)

But environmental concerns persist regarding the effects of ocean fertilization on marine food webs and ocean chemistry.  And doubts remain about the scale of carbon reductions OIF can deliver.  "It's too little to be the solution, but it's too much to ignore," says Smetacek.

Friday, July 20, 2012

All Clear at Weyburn

In February 2011, Cenovus Energy entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources (MER) to commission a targeted site assessment at the Weyburn oilfield it operates on behalf of 23 other partners.  Cenovus conducts CO2 EOR at the Weyburn site, and neighboring landowners had raised concerns about possible CO2 leakage and contamination.  Now the results of that assessment have been made public, and the company and its EOR operations have received a clean bill of health.

According to the study, led by TRIUM Environmental, "The findings of the investigation do not indicate the presence of anthropogenic CO2 from the Weyburn reservoir in either the soils or wetlands of SW30-5-13W2 [i.e., the disputed portion of the Weyburn unit].  The presence of CO2 in the soil of SW30-5-13W2 is a result of a naturally and seasonally variable soil respiration process" (p. 1).  This is proven conclusively using carbon-14 dating.  The assessment also demonstrates a total absence of hydrocarbons in local surface water, and verifies the integrity of associated oilfield infrastructure.  Results were independently confirmed by researchers from both the IEA GHG Weyburn CO2 Monitoring & Storage Project and the Petroleum Technology Research Center (PTRC).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian

Last summer, I commented on the hostile tenor of reporting on geoengineering by the Guardian newspaper (see The Guardian Against Geoengineering?, 6/16/11).  Now that coverage has gone from being biased to just plain bad.  In a story published Tuesday titled "US Geoengineers to Spray Sun-Reflecting Chemicals from Balloon," a Guardian reporter stated that "Two Harvard engineers are to spray sun-reflecting chemical particles into the atmosphere to artificially cool the planet, using a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico."  This experiment, the story continues, "will take place within a year and involve release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles to measure the impacts on ozone chemistry."

The problem with this report is that, quite simply, no such experiment is planned.  Nor is funding in place.  Nor has a proposal been written.  The assertions regarding schedule ("within a year"), location ("Fort Sumner, New Mexico"), and method ("release of tens or hundreds of kilograms of particles") are all false.  As David Keith, one of the engineers cited, succinctly put it, "The story is substantially fabricated" (emphasis original).  (In addition to these inaccuracies, the story also mischaracterizes the SPICE research project and uncritically presents a global map of geoengineering activities produced by the ETC Group.)

The Guardian is entitled to its opinion about geoengineering.  But it is not entitled to make up facts.  This story falls far short of any reasonable set of journalistic standards, and ought to be corrected in full.  The geoengineering debate, including its critics, deserves better than this.

Update on EU-Funded Research

Three important geoengineering research projects supported by EU funds have recently been gaining ground.  The first is known as Implications and Risks of Novel Options to Limit Climate Change, or IMPLICC.  IMPLICC is an SRM modeling collaboration involving five research centers in France, Germany, and Norway, led by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.  The project is funded by the EU Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) Seventh Framework Program (FP7).  At a May meeting in Mainz, project participants reported on modeling results, notably the apparent nonuniformity of global temperature reductions resulting from stratospheric aerosol injections.

The second project, the European Trans-disciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering or EuTRACE, is also supported by FP7 funds.  EuTRACE is intended to provide a comprehensive, interdisciplinary assessment of geoengineering, focusing in particular on "the long-absent European perspective, examining how CE [climate engineering] relates to the ambitious climate targets of the EU and its member states."  The project, coordinated by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, will bring together natural and social scientists from fourteen institutions spanning five European countries, who will conclude their work in 2014.

Lastly, the "Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management" project is supported by the EU Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) program.  This project aims to strengthen coordination among disparate European biochar research efforts through enhanced training, increased engagement, and improved network capabilities.  The project will entail participation by researchers and other stakeholders from several non-EU countries, including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Israel.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

David Suzuki Urges Opposition to CCS

Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki wrote a commentary last week in which he called for "renewable energy, not carbon capture and storage."  Suzuki bases his opposition to CCS on familiar grounds including high cost, induced seismicity, and problematic liability.  He concludes that "We need to consider many solutions to deal with waste, pollution, and global warming, but not risky and expensive schemes that serve only to enable our continued addiction to fossil fuels.  Our best bet is to reduce waste and emissions.  And rather than dumping money into schemes like carbon capture and storage, we should invest in renewable energy."

However, in regard to the objections raised by Suzuki, on closer examination there is less than meets the eye.  Theoretical and empirical evidence of a link between CCS and induced seismicity is weak to nonexistent (see Geologic Storage and Earthquakes?, 6/23).  Costs are high indeed, but innovative measures such as power plant CO2 performance standards offer ways around this obstacle (see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16).  And recent research suggests that the liability issue is much less troublesome than previously thought (see New Study Quantifies Risks from CCS, 6/27).

The world economy is based on investments in fossil fuel consumption.  Past investments represent sunk costs that will not simply be abandoned as stranded assets.  Future investments are being planned now, and must take into account a near-zero cost of carbon given a moribund EU ETS, the uninspiring outcomes of Durban and Rio+20, etc.  Furthermore, CCS transport and storage technologies will likely prove critical to several promising CDR approaches such as DAC and BECCS.  Given the economic and ecological realities we face, a wholesale switch to renewables now is neither wise nor possible.  CCS must be part of the mix, and to dismiss it out of hand qualifies as both risky and short-sighted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Investments in CCS Demonstration, Research

The Canadian government has announced a CAD$14.5 million ($14.3 million) investment in a CCS/EOR demonstration plant located in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.  The facility, owned and operated by Husky Energy, combines carbon captured at an ethanol plant (250 metric tons of CO2 per day) with EOR conducted at nearby heavy oil fields.  This investment is part of the federal government's CAD$151 million ($149 million) ecoENERGY Technology Initiative.  The Saskatchewan government also provides small-scale funding for the Husky Energy plant under its Petroleum Research Incentive Program.

Elsewhere, the University of Edinburgh has opened the CO2-EOR Center, dedicated to research into EOR methods for use in the North Sea.  The institute is funded by the Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise, and 2CO, a CCS developer.  Research at the CO2-EOR Center will be conducted as part of the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage project, operated jointly by the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, and the British Geological Survey.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Study Quantifies Risks from CCS

The consulting firm Industrial Economics (IEc) has authored an interesting study that seeks to quantify the risks associated with CCS.  Using a Monte Carlo random sampling method, IEc conducts a risk valuation for a hypothetical CCS installation located at Jewett, TX (one of the finalist sites under the original DOE FutureGen clean coal project).  The key finding from the study is that, "Overall, estimated total damages are approximately $8.5 million (50th percentile) and $18.6 million (95th percentile)" (p. ES-19) over 100 years (in 2010 dollars).  In other words, the "most likely" estimated damages over the lifetime of the project would be $8.5 million--there is a 50% chance that damages would be above or below this figure.  "Upper end" damage estimates increase to $18.6 million--there is a 95% chance that damages would be equal to or below this figure.  Given plans for 50 million metric tons of CO2 sequestered at Jewett, these damage estimates equate to just 17 cents per metric ton (most likely) and 37 cents per metric ton (worst case).  Most damages would result from leaks at the sequestration site.

These sums are far less than damage estimates commonly put forward by opponents of CCS, and suggest that CCS risk mitigation and liability management are wholly tractable problems.  However, as IEc is quick to point out, these results are also highly dependent on site-specific factors particular to Jewett and will not be precisely replicable elsewhere.  Every actual and potential CCS site embodies a unique combination of geologic, economic, land-use, environmental, and other factors that render generic CCS risk valuations meaningless.  Nevertheless, this study demonstrates that a generic risk valuation model, applied to plausible real-world sites, can serve as a useful method for quantifying CCS risks and can produce very encouraging results.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Geologic Storage and Earthquakes?

Stanford University researchers have published an article claiming that geologic carbon storage can cause "induced seismicity" when carried out in continental interiors.  The high probability that CO2 storage in these regions will trigger earthquakes means that seal integrity is necessarily unreliable and CCS should not be deployed on a large scale.  Of course the likelihood of earthquakes also means local death and destruction, so that CCS must be regarded as a threat similar to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for natural gas.

In response, the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) released a statement countering these assertions.  According to CATF, existing models fail to demonstrate any link between CCS and induced seismicity; if such a link did exist, it would not apply to enormous offshore storage reservoirs; and, most importantly, no record exists of any significant seismic activity resulting from any CCS or EOR project anywhere in the world.  They conclude, "There's no question that seismic factors must be considered in the planning and permitting process for selecting carbon storage sites ... But fundamentally, we maintain the expense of overcoming any such obstacles will be minimal compared to the global costs of climate change from unmitigated industrial greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

German SPD Gives Careful Consideration to Geoengineering

Following in the footsteps of the US Congress and UK Parliament, the German Bundestag (lower house) has initiated an inquiry into geoengineering, led by the Committee on Education, Research, and Technology Assessment.  Last week, as part of this inquiry, members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) submitted a short statement and a long list of questions about geoengineering directed to the federal government.  In their statement, SPD members frame the geoengineering debate in Germany in terms of two prominent government reports from 2011, a relatively friendly report published by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and a more hostile report published by the Federal Environment Agency (for more, see Two New German Government Reports, 12/19/11).  SPD parliamentarians side firmly with the second, more critical report, declaring "This faction of the SPD supports this view" (p. 1, English translation).

This is not surprising, given the SPD's left-of-center orientation and affinities with the Greens.  What is surprising, however, is the breadth and seeming reasonableness of the questions they submit.  There are 56 questions in total ranging in topic from definitional issues, risk assessments, and current research, to patents, moratoriums, and the recent SPICE debacle (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17).  The government is even asked to offer its views concerning a UNESCO policy brief released at last year's Durban conference (see Post-Durban Wrap-Up, 12/14/11).  None of this is to suggest that the SPD is warming to the idea of geoengineering.  Rather, it suggests that opposition to geoengineering may not be as reflexive and unconsidered as it often appears, civil discussion is possible, and the potential may exist for persuasion achieved via rational discourse.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Revised Brazil Forest Code Mandates Reforestation

Brazil's new Forest Code, a revised version of the original 1965 law, will require widespread reforestation by rural landowners in the Amazon and elsewhere.  The new code represents an uneasy compromise between environmentalists striving to halt deforestation, and Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby, known as ruralistas.  One of its central components is an attempt to bring violators of the original code into compliance with forest set-aside provisions, in a way that is both environmentally responsible and pragmatic.

Under the 1965 Forest Code, private landowners were required to preserve varying amounts of native vegetation on their property, depending on the type of land:

  • 80% for land in the Amazon
  • 35% for savannah
  • 20% for other landscapes
Needless to say, there was systematic noncompliance with these rules over the decades resulting in massive deforestation.  For a number of reasons, compliance began to improve in the late 1990s, however, and the revised code seeks to lock this in.

To accomplish this, the 2012 Forest Code divides past violators into two groups.  Smallholders, who together own 90% of rural properties but only 24% of rural land area, are granted a partial amnesty and must reforest only 20% of their plots.  Ruralistas and other property owners, who hold 10% of rural properties but 76% of rural land, are not granted amnesties and must fully reforest their lands as specified by law.

Despite complaints by some environmentalists, this is an ambitious goal that, if met, would result in substantial reforestation in Brazil and significant accompanying carbon sequestration.  Given the country's problematic history of inadequate forest law enforcement and general disregard for reserve requirements, this goal will not be met in its entirety.  Yet considering the intransigence typical of large landowners and agribusiness in Brazil, the government of President Dilma Rousseff ought to be congratulated for setting the bar as high as it has and supported in its efforts to implement the updated law.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

IBI Issues First Biochar Standards

After three years of research and consultation, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) has released the first set of international biochar standards.  These "Biochar Guidelines" provide basic definitions and test methods for biochar, with the goal of introducing a minimum level of reliable product standardization in order to enable increased development of the nascent biochar industry.  Among other things, the standards establish a new framework for classifying biochar based on its carbon content:

  • Class 1 biochar - >60% carbon
  • Class 2 biochar - 30-60% carbon
  • Class 3 biochar - 10-30% carbon
IBI plans to follow up publication of these standards with a new global certification scheme designed to promote further commercialization of biochar technologies.