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.