Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Obama Administration Considering Possible Research Funding

Last month, as the US Congress debated a $50.5 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy (the bill passed yesterday and now awaits President Obama's signature), the Administration indicated that it is considering funding for research into geoengineering.  Thomas R. Armstrong, Executive Director of the US Global Change Research Program (a key federal coordinating body), reportedly remarked, "The hundred-year floods are now the five-year floods."  He continued, "There has not been enough open public discussion about the pros and cons of geoengineering."  The details of any proposed program are unknown, but the FY2014 budget process is scheduled to get underway in Washington in February.

Monday, January 28, 2013

ETC Group Warns of "SRM Wars"

In a recent post (WEF Warns of Unilateral Deployment, 1/10), I mentioned a newly released report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) warning of threats to "global stability" caused by unilateral deployment of geoengineering technology leading to a "hijacked" climate.  As I noted, such scenarios are very unlikely to unfold, yet presenting them in serious policy terms as WEF does gives cover to less responsible critics who present even more outlandish claims.  Right on cue, the ETC Group has provided a case in point.

In a new "communique" titled "The Artificial Intelligence of Geoengineering," the ETC Group makes a rambling argument about artificial intelligence, the human genome, climate change, SRM, unilateralism, "complexity levels," and military conflict.  What begins as a meditation on complexity ends with the following:

SRM wars: Both unilateral global geoengineering initiatives and unilateral regional geoengineering initiatives represent a direct threat to global security and invite – almost require – responses from other governments. Especially, ocean and solar radiation management (SRM) interventions will start an escalation of meteorological experimentation that could quickly spin out of control. Geoengineering experimentation, then, is a transgression of the ENMOD (Environmental Modification) treaty of the 1970s and governments and/or the United Nations should immediately bring this concern before the International Court of Justice. In keeping with the geoengineering moratorium adopted by member governments at the UN Biodiversity Convention in 2010 and until the court makes its decision, no experimentation – outside of laboratories – can be allowed. (p. 7, boldface original)

This conclusion is full of inaccuracies and misleading statements.  Most egregious is the central assertion that climate interventions will trigger an experimental free-for-all, which will threaten global security, which unquestionably constitutes a violation of the ENMOD treaty.  In reality, the convention applies to actual utilization of technologies rather than theoretical potential; an uncoordinated climatological "arms race" is highly unlikely to occur given the technically complex nature of regional- and large-scale field trials; and, even if some sort of escalation did occur, there would clearly be no violation of ENMOD since the treaty applies strictly to "hostile" uses while expressly permitting environmental modification for "peaceful purposes."  ETC Group is likely to make such charges regardless of the broader discursive environment, yet speculations of the sort put forward by the WEF tend to lend such ravings a level of credibility they would not otherwise attain.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Positive Cloud Brightening Results from E-PEACE

In 2011, a multi-institutional marine cloud brightening (MCB) research project called the Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment (E-PEACE) conducted a series of small-scale, low-level cloud particle experiments off the coast of California.  Details of these trials and experimental results are  now being shared.  Tests were conducted using three different particle technologies: larger aerosols from conventional ship exhaust (known to produce observable ship tracks), smaller aerosols from dedicated shipboard smoke generators, and salt particles released from aircraft.  The research team was able to establish that specialized smoke generators successfully create reflective tracks, and do so much more efficiently than ship exhaust (results for salt particles are not yet available).  Scientists also found that low clouds and multiple layers reduce the effectiveness of aerosol emissions.  The overall conclusion reached by researchers was that "The E-PEACE results provide a proof of concept that cloud brightening to reduce global mean warming is possible, with existing, decades-old technology, for some cloud conditions" (p. 14).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

First CDM Credits Issued for Reforestation in China

The "Facilitating Restoration for Guangxi Watershed Management in Pearl River Basin Project," the world's first reforestation project registered under the CDM, is now the first reforestation project in China to be awarded carbon credits.  Located in a previously deforested area of the Guangxi region, the project has successfully reforested 3,000 hectares with mostly native species.  Working with provincial and local governments and companies, farmers are learning to treat carbon sequestered in the new plantings as a "virtual cash crop" by selling credits to the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund.  Farmers also sell sustainable forestry products to local markets.  In recognition of verified carbon sequestered, the CDM last month issued 131,964 temporary Certified Emission Reductions (tCERs).

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Life for CCS in California?

With California's AB 32 cap-and-trade program now up and running, there is a renewed push in Sacramento for measures to facilitate deployment of CCS in the state.  Last month, California state Senator Michael Rubio (D) reintroduced legislation designed to resolve a number of outstanding regulatory and policy issues.  If passed, Senate Bill (SB) 34 would:

  • affirm that ownership of subsurface pore space vests in the surface landowner;
  • direct the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to adopt final protocols for CCS projects by 2016;
  • specify that CCS and EOR qualify as emission reduction technologies under AB 32; and
  • clarify state regulatory authorities over different segments of the CCS chain.

A similar bill died in committee earlier last year.  However, thumping Democratic victories in the November election have altered the political landscape.  Democrats now enjoy supermajorities in both the California state Senate and Assembly, and prospects for passage of SB 34 look promising.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

WEF Warns of Unilateral Deployment

The World Economic Forum (WEF), host of the annual Davos conference, has released its Global Risks 2013 report ranking 50 top risks in terms of likelihood and impact.  Geoengineering does not rate among these top 50 global risks, but the report does name unilateral geoengineering as one of five "X Factors" or "emerging game-changers."  The authors describe a scenario "in which a country or small group of countries precipitates an international crisis by moving ahead with deployment or large-scale research independent of the global community.  The global climate could, in effect, be hijacked by a rogue country or even a wealthy individual, with unpredictable costs to agriculture, infrastructure and global stability" (p. 57).  Predictably, opponents of research like The Guardian have quickly propagated the story with headlines such as "Rogue geoengineering could 'hijack' world's climate."

On other occasions I have referred to the threat of unilateral deployment as being largely a myth that fails to take into account basic technical and political attributes of climate interventions such as stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).  Rather than restate my argument in full, I reproduce here a summary statement taken from a previously published article:*

Thus, the incentive structure faced by a state interested in implementing SAI would strongly discourage unilateral postures that dismissed the need for international agreement and coordination. Any country considering unilateral deployment would find itself tangled in a web of technical and political constraints and steered toward reaching some form of global consensus. Individual incentives may be inadequate to deter unilateralism on their own, but their collective weight is likely to tilt the playing field decisively in favor of multilateral cooperation. For instance, Country B may be sufficiently motivated to accept the costs associated with the termination problem and dispense with efforts to synchronize emissions mitigation policies. But once deployed, a large number of international actors would effectively exercise joint control over any injection system, frustrating any attempt by Country B to pursue a coherent SAI policy managed solely by its national government. Furthermore, any actor opposed to the project could easily (and anonymously) counter its effects using relatively simple means such as release of black carbon, thereby neutralizing the entire scheme. For Country B, the costs of unilateral SAI would exceed the benefits, due to the technical limitations inherent in unilateral deployment of such technology, and as a consequence, interest in SAI would require a multilateral approach. The net result is that states are unlikely to view unilateral deployment as a sound, effective policy option. (p. 62)

Perhaps WEF will reconsider designating unilateral deployment as an "X Factor" and stop inadvertently lending support to the more obstinate and unreasonable among geoengineering's critics.  Alas, probably not.

*Joshua B. Horton, "Geoengineering and the Myth of Unilateralism: Pressures and Prospects for International Cooperation," Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4 (2011): 56-69

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

IEA Renews Push for CCS

The International Energy Agency (IEA), a longtime advocate of CCS, has renewed its campaign for carbon capture and storage technology.  The organization has declared CCS a priority for 2013, pledging to promote action across the policy spectrum, in developed and developing countries.  One particular focus will be to advance work on storage site characterization and development.  IEA will also encourage adoption of innovative incentives for CCS deployment, such as the "contracts for difference" (CFDs) envisioned in the UK's proposed Electricity Market Reform bill (see Electricity Market Reform in the UK, 12/9/12).  IEA plans to release an updated version of its landmark 2009 CCS technology roadmap later this spring.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New CCS Methodology Covers Direct Air Capture

American Carbon Registry (ACR), a major offset standards body, has released a draft CCS carbon offset methodology that explicitly covers EOR projects sourced by direct air capture (DAC) geoengineering.  This methodology, drafted by the Blue Strategies consulting group, defines CCS in terms inclusive of DAC: "Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the separation and capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmospheric emissions of industrial processes or the direct air capture (DAC) of atmospheric CO2 and the transport and safe, permanent storage of the CO2 in deep underground geologic formations" (p. 1).  If the methodology is adopted, EOR projects using both DAC and conventional CO2 sources will be eligible for ACR offset credits tradable on the voluntary carbon market.  A public comment period extends through the end of January.

Note: ACR subsequently clarified that its proposed methodology applies only to CO2-EOR projects, and not to traditional CCS projects involving storage in saline aquifers.  The above post has been duly revised.