Friday, August 30, 2013

Switzerland Officially Approves Biochar

Switzerland has become the first European country to officially approve the use of biochar in agriculture.  In April, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture issued formal clearance for biochar production and application under a detailed regulatory framework.  Producers wishing to sell biochar require approval from the Swiss-based nonprofit Delinat Institute, which is administratively responsible for quality control and production oversight.  Delinat Institute approval, in turn, requires producers to obtain a European Biochar Certificate (EBC-Certificate), issued solely by the independent q.inspecta certification body.  For now, only untreated wood may be used as biochar feedstock, but other sources will be considered and possibly authorized over the next three years.  At that point, the government plans to add biochar to the official List of Approved Fertilizers.  Although Switzerland is not part of the EU, it is hoped that this carefully defined new system will encourage greater regulatory clarity and boost biochar market growth throughout Europe.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gore Down, Suzuki in the Middle on Geoengineering

In a new interview with the Washington Post, former Vice President and prominent climate campaigner Al Gore offers his candid view on geoengineering.  In response to a general question on the subject, Gore declares that geoengineering is

complex because there are some benign geoengineering proposals like white roofs or efforts to figure out a way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, though no one has figured out how to do that yet.  But the geoengineering options most often discussed, like putting sulfer dioxide into the atmosphere or orbiting tinfoil strips -- these are simply nuts.  We shouldn't waste a lot of time talking about them.  Some people will anyway, but they're just crazy.

While his characterization of research advocates as "crazy" is obviously over the top, it is refreshing to see Gore drawing distinctions between different geoengineering techniques, in particular "soft" CDR versus "hard" SRM.  Yet he clearly remains skeptical toward both branches of geoengineering technology.

Further north, Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki recently expressed similar skepticism toward climate engineering in an online column, but he leavened his comments by acknowledging that research is warranted.  "Geoengineering to combat climate change is largely untested.  Because we've stalled so long on reducing carbon emissions and still aren't doing enough, we may have to consider it," Suzuki writes.  He goes on to note that "Scientists at the Berlin Social Science Research Center suggest creating a 'new international climate engineering agency ... to coordinate countries' efforts and manage research funding.'  Because some geoengineering is likely unavoidable, that's a good idea" (see here for a summary of the referenced proposal).  Just last year, Suzuki declared his strong opposition to CCS (see David Suzuki Urges Opposition to CCS, 7/7/12), yet now he considers CCS a "carbon-reduction method" potentially worthy of research, suggesting that his attitude on the issue is evolving in a positive direction.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fiji Calls for Climate Engineering

A Fijian official speaking at a South Pacific climate conference has publicly expressed support for geoengineering.  Esala Nayasi, director of the political and treaties division of the Fiji Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted by the state Ministry of Information saying that, "As PICs [Pacific island countries], it is incumbent on us to endeavor to advance our interest within the international community and we need science, we need research, we need data and we need climate change engineering."  The meeting, titled "First Open Discussion Workshop About Climate Engineering: Perspectives of Pacific Small Island States," was held in Suva and sponsored jointly by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies and the University of the South Pacific.

Small island states like Fiji are a natural constituency for geoengineering (see Climate Change, Security, and Small Island States, 7/21/11), so it is no surprise to see such statements beginning to emanate from representative countries.  It will be particularly interesting to see whether broader groupings such as the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) start to echo calls for support, at least for accelerated research efforts.

Friday, August 16, 2013

GeoMIP Publishes First Results

The Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP), an international collaborative project designed to test the robustness of SRM modeling results across multiple climate models, has released results from its first round of simulations.  "Experiment G1" focused on a simple scenario in which results from a preindustrial control run were compared to results from a simulated quadrupling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere; both runs were then compared to results from a geoengineering simulation in which top of atmosphere (TOA) radiative forcing is initially lowered by a maximum 0.1 W/m2 to mimic the effects of SRM.  These test parameters were run using twelve different global climate models to determine which results held relatively constant across multiple models, indicating theoretical agreement on the broad consequences of SRM deployment.

The main findings of G1 include:

  • Geoengineering can return high temperatures under global warming to preindustrial levels, with some regional variation.
  • Geoengineering can prevent Arctic sea ice loss under global warming.
  • Precipitation in the tropics declines under geoengineering due to reduced atmospheric convection.
  • Plant growth increases in a geoengineered world as a result of the CO2 fertilization effect combined with reduced heat stress.
The authors conclude, "For most of the results presented in this study, changes in G1 [geoengineering simulation] relative to piControl [preindustrial control run] are substantially smaller than changes in abrupt4xCO2 [global warming simulation] relative to piControl" (p. 11).  While these scenarios are greatly simplified and highly idealized, comparison of modeling results provides first-order quantitative evidence of how a geoengineered world would look relative to a world experiencing significant climate change without SRM.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

IEA Updates CCS Roadmap

In 2009, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a CCS Technology Roadmap laying out practical steps governments and other stakeholders could take to move CCS from a limited number of pilot and demonstration projects to global deployment in power generation and industrial sectors.  The 2009 Roadmap famously argued that without CCS, the cost of reducing global emissions to 2005 levels  by 2050 would increase by 70%.  Last month, the IEA released an updated 2013 edition of the CCS Roadmap intended to revise recommended actions in light of recent developments.  Bluntly put, given the lack of progress on CCS deployment worldwide, IEA has scaled back its original 2009 plan to a blueprint that is less ambitious and more realistic, yet renders deployment goals and mitigation targets (and systematic development of BECCS and related CDR technology) less likely to be achieved.

The IEA is admirably honest in its assessment of CCS progress since 2009: "given today's level of fossil fuel utilisation, and that a carbon price as a key driver for CCS remains missing, the deployment of CCS is running far below the trajectory required to limit long-term global average temperature increases to 2 [degrees] C" (p. 7).  The revised roadmap details 24 actions that should be taken in the short, medium, and long term along all links in the CCS chain to meet the 2050 emissions goal.  In particular, "seven key actions represent the backbone of activities absolutely necessary during the seven years up to 2020" (p. 41): increased government funding; policies to promote CO2 storage; CCS-ready requirements; expanded capture in industrial applications; more public outreach; significant gains in power plant energy efficiency; and planning for future transport infrastructure.

The roadmap rightly observes that "The most pressing requirement for the next seven years is creating and consolidating business cases for the initial large-scale CCS projects" (p. 26).  In other words, private actors need to be given good reasons for adopting CCS--currently, with no real carbon price and minimal financial incentives, there simply are no good reasons from a business perspective.  And it is far from clear that the revised actions recommended in the 2013 Roadmap will be adequate to provide them.  Emissions performance standards for electricity generation, a potentially powerful regulatory tool that would mandate a certain level of CCS adoption by the power industry, gets surprisingly short shrift in the roadmap.  Implementing robust performance standards would fundamentally alter business cases for power companies: the question would no longer be "why should we pay for CCS?," but rather "what is the cheapest way to comply with carbon regulations?," to which CCS would frequently be the answer.  The Obama Administration is currently pursuing this approach (see EPA Advancing CCS Rule for New Power Plants, 7/5), with a revised standard for new power plants due to be unveiled next month.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ecologic Institute Pushes Restrictive Approach to Geoengineering Governance

In a post last month, I reported on comments made by a European Commission official at a June conference on geoengineering governance held in Brussels (see Insights Into European Commission Views on Geoengineering, 7/6).  A principal focus of this conference was a presentation by the Ecologic Institute, an international environmental think-tank, on its views regarding governance of geoengineering research and deployment.  This presentation is now public, and recommends broad restrictions on all research and development efforts.

Ecologic's primary recommendation for geoengineering governance is a "prohibition in principle, combined with clear conditions for exceptions, e.g. for legitimate research" (slide 7, emphasis original).  The scope for conducting "legitimate" research would be quite limited--the suggested prohibition would "in principle include research activities beyond 'indoor' activities, but also a potential exemption under clearly defined conditions" (slide 8, emphasis original).  Ecologic goes on to recommend the "CBD [as a] prime candidate for becoming the central [governance] institution recognised as a first point of contact and overarching functions" (slide 13, emphasis original).

The Ecologic position essentially calls for an extension and institutionalization of the status quo as represented by the current CBD moratorium.  The Ecologic Institute has worked closely with the CBD in the past, as it was primarily responsible for authoring the Convention's 2012 regulatory report on geoengineering.  The Institute's current recommendations are based on earlier work performed for the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), which itself released the unfavorable 2011 report "Geoengineering: Effective Climate Protection or Megalomania?" (see Two New German Government Reports, 12/19/11).