Saturday, February 25, 2012

Environmental Audit Committee Hearing in the UK

Earlier this week, the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee held a hearing on "Protecting the Arctic" (available for viewing here). The session focused on threats to the Arctic posed by climate change and potential responses. Key topics included tipping points, sea-ice retreat, methane releases, and geoengineering. The proceedings were very much in line with recent discussions about a supposed methane emergency in the Arctic (see Arctic Methane, Emergencies, and Alarmism, 12/29/11), and cast a decidedly negative light on calls by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) for near-term deployment of geoengineering technologies to avert impending climate catastrophe.

After initial remarks on tipping points (by Tim Lenton, University of Exeter) and sea-ice retreat (by Peter Wadhams, University of Cambridge), John Nissen, founder and Chair of AMEG, argued that recently detected methane plumes in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) may signal the onset of runaway climate change, and hence regional stratospheric aerosol and cloud brightening schemes must be implemented as soon as possible. Lenton, arguably the world's leading authority on climate tipping points, was quick to dismiss the nightmare scenario laid out by Nissen, stating that "I don't think the alarmist story adds up in what I've seen" (15:20:33). Lenton was hugely skeptical of proposed geoengineering deployment in the Arctic. Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party, questioned Nissen about the possible risks of geoengineering proposed by AMEG, and expressed serious reservations about Arctic deployment. Wadhams, an expert on sea ice and also a member of AMEG, was caught uncomfortably between the two positions, deeply concerned about positive feedbacks and nonlinearities, but seeming to lack enthusiasm for immediate deployment. (Wadhams did not fully articulate his views on geoengineering, and one wonders how forcefully he backs the aggressive demands put forward by AMEG.)

On balance, geoengineering did not fare well in the hearing. This is not surprising given that its implementation in the Arctic is clearly premature at present. The absence of support from the scientific establishment for rapid implementation ought to signal to advocates of Arctic deployment that the case for action now is not persuasive, and calls for geoengineering in the near future are unwise. Unfortunately, AMEG and its sympathizers may draw the opposite conclusion, and redouble their efforts to convince skeptical scientists and policymakers that the end is nigh, further marginalizing geoengineering in the process.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More Carbon Farming in Australia

With the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) underway and a national carbon market launching in July, reforestation and other carbon farming projects are gaining momentum in Australia. The country's largest commercial reforestation firm, CO2 Australia, is reporting a 681% increase in the number of landholders exploring opportunities to generate carbon credits using carbon sinks. CO2 Australia manages more than 22,000 hectares of reforestated land, and specializes in mallee tree plantings, which recover quickly from fires and thus help ensure permanent carbon sequestration.

Meanwhile, the federal government is preparing an Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund, also scheduled to begin operations in July. The 5-year, AUD$22.3 million ($23.8 million) project aims to support R&D, capacity building, and market entry activities for Aboriginal communities looking to benefit from reforestation and other land management schemes under the CFI. A series of introductory seminars called "Aboriginal Carbon Farming - Fixing Our Country" is currently being held in communities across South Australia.

Monday, February 20, 2012

La Via Campesina Calls for Ban on Geoengineering

La Via Campesina, the international peasants' organization struggling against global capitalism, has called for governments to impose a complete ban on all geoengineering activities at the upcoming Rio+20 conference. Specifically, the group has announced,

The organization makes a number of other sweeping calls for action, rejecting all forms of carbon trading, REDD+, and indeed the global capitalist system itself, while citing worldwide agrarian reform as the solution to climate change and myriad other socioeconomic and environmental problems. Making such demands is no doubt therapeutic, but bears little connection to the world we live in. Global land redistribution may appeal to one's sense of justice, but is hardly a pragmatic strategy for averting catastrophic climate change. Nevertheless, these and similar positions will continue to be advocated in the run-up to Rio+20 in June (see, for example, European Parliament Comes Out Against Geoengineering, 10/11/11), as the summit is shaping up to be the next major forum for debating the merits of geoengineering.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Japanese Government Considers Research Funding

The Japanese Ministry of the Environment is currently finalizing funding decisions under a 5-year, ¥1.5 billion ($19 million) umbrella project titled "Comprehensive Research on Construction of Risk Management Strategies for Global Climate Change" (see here for a rough English-language translation). As part of this project, the Ministry is considering support for efforts to incorporate both SRM and CDR geoengineering techniques into advanced integrated assessment models. Final decisions are expected soon, with the project scheduled to begin in April.

Monday, February 6, 2012

First Soil Carbon Methodology Approved

Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the independent standards body, has approved the first offset methodology for sustainable land management practices (SALM). This methodology (VM0017) is designed to track changes in soil organic carbon levels due to "carbon farming" practices such as manure management, use of cover crops, compost recycling, and no-till farming. The World Bank developed the methodology for a smallholder pilot project in Kenya. Promoters hope that the availability of carbon credits will increase the financial attractiveness of other, larger carbon farming projects, particularly bundled smallholder projects.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hopeful Signs for Reforestation in Africa

Nedbank Capital, a South African bank, and Netherlands-based Face the Future, a forest carbon offset project developer, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) intended to facilitate joint sustainable forestry projects in Africa. The agreement stems from an earlier collaboration between the two parties on a reforestation project in Uganda's Kibale National Park, which is managed by Face the Future along with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Last year, Nedbank purchased 50,000 carbon credits generated by the Kibale project. With an MOU now in place, Nedbank and Face the Future envision future projects in East Africa including Uganda as well as Kenya and Tanzania. Such otherwise hopeful prospects may be blunted, however, by the EU's continuing prohibition on the use of A/R credits, and possibly by upcoming ETS Phase III restrictions on credits originating outside of least developed countries (LDCs).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New NGO CCS Network

Nine leading environmental and climate NGOs recently joined together to form the ENGO Network on CCS. The purpose of the Network is "to jointly pursue domestic and international policies and regulations enabling CCS to deliver on its emissions reduction potential safely and effectively." Members include:
  • Clean Air Task Force
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Green Alliance
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • The Bellona Foundation
  • The Climate Institute
  • The Pembina Institute
  • World Resources Institute
  • Zero Emission Resource Organization
Of particular note are EDF and NRDC, which continue to distinguish themselves as forward-thinking, pragmatic organizations open to innovative climate solutions such as CCS and related geoengineering technologies (see, for example, NRDC and EDF Lead the Way, 12/2/10).