Friday, November 29, 2013

Quick Recap of COP19 from a Geoengineering Perspective

COP19 in Warsaw has come to its merciful conclusion, with little of significance to report from a geoengineering perspective.  CCS was entirely absent from the agenda.  While there was some progress on finalizing financial and institutional aspects of REDD, nothing substantial regarding afforestation or reforestation was achieved.  The most meaningful outcome of the COP was an agreement among parties to "initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions" prior to COP21 in Paris in 2015, where a legal accord governing mitigation for the post-2020 period is scheduled to be adopted.  These "contributions" (weaker than the "commitments" previously agreed at COP17 in Durban) will be determined solely on a national basis, freeing developed and developing countries alike from any binding emissions reduction targets negotiated at the international level.  The general weakening of ambition represented by COP19 unfortunately makes an eventual turn to SRM more likely.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Carbon Credits Awarded to Moldova Afforestation Project

Two weeks ago, the Moldova Community Forestry Development Project, an afforestation project supported by the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund, was awarded 328,809 temporary Certified Emission Credits (tCERs).  (tCERs are carbon credits issued by the CDM for afforestation and reforestation projects.)  This Moldova A/R project, implemented by the National Forest Agency of Moldova (Moldsilva), has planted trees on 10,000 hectares of previously degraded land.  In addition to carbon storage, project benefits include landscape restoration, soil conservation, and economic opportunities through sustainable forestry.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cool Planet Launches Biochar Product for Commercial Trials

Cool Planet Energy Systems, the pioneering biofuel/biochar startup, has officially launched its patented Cool Terra biochar product for use in commercial agricultural trials.  Field trials have already been conducted in California, and the company now intends to undertake a wider set of commercial trials in anticipation of a full market release sometime next year.  Cool Planet envisions a nationwide network of local pyrolysis stations utilizing cellulosic biomass to produce carbon-negative gasoline and biochar soil amendments.  The Cool Terra rollout was announced at the 2013 North American Biochar Symposium held earlier this month in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

London Protocol Adopts Amendments to Regulate All Marine Geoengineering

Last Friday, parties to the London Convention/London Protocol (LC/LP) on ocean dumping formally adopted amendments which would establish a new "positive list" of marine geoengineering techniques that could be permitted under the Protocol, subject to a test of scientific legitimacy using tailored "Assessment Frameworks."  The amendments are a slightly modified version of a proposal originally put forward by Australia, Nigeria, and South Korea in May (see New London Protocol Proposal to Regulate Marine Geoengineering, 5/18).  Like that earlier proposal, the amendments as adopted include only ocean fertilization on the initial positive list, with provision for the addition of other marine geoengineering methods.

The amendments represent an expansion of scope for the LC/LP beyond its current sole focus on ocean fertilization to possibly encompass other techniques such as enhanced weathering or microbubbles.  Furthermore, as amendments rather than resolutions (the official status of all previous ocean fertilization provisions), these new rules, if they enter into force, would be legally binding on consenting parties rather than strictly voluntary.  The amendments will enter into force 60 days after two-thirds of the Contracting Parties deliver an "instrument of acceptance."  The amendments were adopted at the 35th meeting of the LC and the 8th meeting of the LP, held jointly in London.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

First Evidence Indicates Minimal Political Fallout from EPA CCS Standard

Two weeks after the EPA released a proposed emissions performance standard that would require CCS for all new coal-fired power plants (see EPA Releases Revised Performance Standard Requiring CCS, 9/23), initial evidence suggests that the political fallout for Democrats is minimal.  The new standard and the supposed "war on coal" being waged by the Obama Administration have become a flashpoint in the Virginia governor's race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton confidante, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state's Attorney General.  Southwest Virginia is coal country, leading McAuliffe to evade questions about the standard in the days following EPA's announcement.  When he finally expressed support, Cuccinelli went on the attack and accused McAuliffe of hostility toward Virginia's coal industry.

A new poll of 1,150 likely voters commissioned by Politico shows that the issue has failed to catch fire among the state electorate.  In response to the question, "Do you support or oppose new Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, regulations on coal-fired power plants aimed at curtailing climate change?," 45% of respondents expressed support, 33% were opposed, and 22% were unsure.  Predictably, support was high among Democrats (67%) and low among Republicans (21%), while independents were 44% in favor, 36% opposed, and 19% unsure.  These results are largely mirrored in overall voter preferences, with 44% of respondents supporting McAuliffe, 35% supporting Cuccinelli, and 12% supporting Libertarian Robert Sarvis (in a hypothetical two-man match-up 52% of respondents prefer McAuliffe compared to 42% for Cuccinelli).  Cuccinelli is demonstrably suffering from voter dissatisfaction with the Republican-led shutdown of the federal government, which affects Virginia disproportionately given the state's high number of government employees and large federal presence.

Friday, September 27, 2013

IPCC WGI Gives Impartial Consideration to Geoengineering

This morning, IPCC Working Group I (WGI) released its highly anticipated AR5 Summary for Policymakers on the physical science basis of climate change.  The final paragraph of the report considers geoengineering:

Methods that aim to deliberately alter the climate system to counter climate change, termed geoengineering, have been proposed.  Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system.  CDR methods have biogeochemical and technological limitations to their potential on a global scale.  There is insufficient knowledge to quantify how much CO2 emissions could be partially offset by CDR on a century timescale.  Modelling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification.  If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing.  CDR and SRM methods carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale. (p. 21)

This is a relatively balanced statement, justifiably skeptical but neither implacably opposed nor enthusiastically supportive.  Language favorably disposed toward geoengineering, which the Guardian newspaper claimed was being pushed by the Russian delegation in a story last week (see Russia Pushing IPCC WGI to Recognize Geoengineering as Policy Option?, 9/20), is nowhere to be found.  (The Guardian report did, however, provide vocal geoengineering critic Clive Hamilton the opportunity to draw an intimate connection between climate engineering and the predatory Russian state in a follow-on essay.)  The IPCC will take up geoengineering at greater length when Working Group III (WGIII) on mitigation finalizes its contributions to AR5 next April in Berlin.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Norway Scraps Mongstad

The outgoing government of Norway has halted carbon capture operations at the Mongstad CCS demonstration facility, which opened to great fanfare just last year (see More on Mongstad, 6/1/12).  Cost overruns and schedule delays were given as the reasons.  "At both the national and international level, the development of technologies to capture and store CO2 has taken longer, been more difficult and costly than expected," said Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe.  Mongstad's closing serves to underline the point that, absent a significant price on carbon, the business case for CCS is very weak, and demonstration and deployment will likely continue at an anemic pace.  Performance standards, as laid out in new and upcoming EPA regulations on power plant carbon emissions, offer a promising (if blunt) way around this enduring market failure.

Monday, September 23, 2013

EPA Releases Revised Performance Standard Requiring CCS

Last Friday, the EPA released a revised New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) intended to regulate CO2 emissions from new fossil fuel-fired power plants.  The EPA issued its initial draft standard in March 2012, which called for limiting power plant emissions to a maximum 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWh of electricity generated per facility (see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16/12).  After a year of pushback from the coal industry (see EPA Advancing CCS Rule for New Power Plants, 7/5), EPA decided to split the standard in two, with one rule applicable to most natural gas plants and another to coal plants.  Specifically, large (i.e., greater than 850 mmBtu per hour) new gas-fired turbines, which are inherently cleaner than coal-fired plants, would remain subject to the 1,000 pounds CO2 per MWh rule, but new coal-fired units would be limited to a slightly less rigorous standard of 1,100 pounds CO2 per MWh.  This would effectively require all new coal plants to be equipped with CCS.  (Small new gas plants would also be limited to 1,100 pounds CO2, while coal plants would have the additional option of meeting a marginally tighter but more flexible standard of 1,000-1,050 pounds CO2 per MWh averaged over seven years.)

The coal lobby and its political backers have responded to EPA's revised proposal by accusing the Obama Administration of waging a "war on coal."  With mid-term elections coming next year, Republicans will attempt to use this issue against their Democratic opponents in states with significant coal operations, in particular West Virginia and Kentucky.  On the eve of the rule's release, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is up for re-election in 2014, began the counterattack by declaring that "The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs."  Coal companies themselves will blame the proposed rule for their industry's declining fortunes, despite the fact that coal has been steadily losing market share for years largely due to the flood of cheap natural gas made available by hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, view the revised NSPS as the prelude to a much larger battle to come next year, when the EPA will unveil a new performance standard for existing power plants, for which the economic stakes are substantially higher.  The proposed standard for existing plants will be issued no later than June 1, 2014.  The current, revised standard for new plants is now subject to a 60 day comment period, and, depending on the outcome of possible court challenges, could take effect as early as fall of next year.

From the perspective of geoengineering, the promulgation of this revised standard is very encouraging.  Most importantly, it will help reduce emissions from the coal industry.  If new coal plants cannot comply with the new requirements, then they will not be built.  If they can comply, then the construction of new coal-fired plants with CCS systems will almost certainly contribute to declining costs across all segments of the CCS chain, valuable practical experience through "learning by doing," and enhanced preparation for extending CCS to industrial facilities.  And these gains will in turn accelerate the development of BECCS and the transport and storage dimensions of direct air capture (DAC).  Realizing such benefits, however, will depend entirely on the legal wrangling and political maneuvering to follow in the months ahead.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Russia Pushing IPCC WGI to Recognize Geoengineering as Policy Option?

The Guardian newspaper is reporting that Russian negotiators are pushing for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I (WGI) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the physical science basis of climate change, due to be finalized next week in Stockholm, to acknowledge the potential role of geoengineering as a response to climate change.  According to documents the Guardian claims to have seen, Russia has suggested the report's conclusion state that a "possible solution of this [climate change] problem can be found in using [sic] geoengineering methods to stabilize current climate."  These documents also reportedly indicate that geoengineering research is currently being conducted by Russian scientists.

The Guardian continues by quoting Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group:

We have been warning that a few geoengineering advocates have been trying to hijack the IPCC for their agenda.  We are now seeing a deliberate attempt to exploit the high profile and credibility of this body to create more mainstream support for extreme climate engineering.  The public and policymakers need to be on guard against being steamrollered into accepting dangerous and immoral interventions with our planet, which are a false solution to climate change.  Geoengineering should be banned by the UN general assembly.

The story ends by claiming that Sweden, Norway, and Germany have expressed discomfort with Russia's proposal, with German negotiators noting that "The information on geoengineering options is too optimistic as it does not appropriately reflect the current lack of knowledge or the high risks associated with such methods."

While all these facts may be accurate, it is important to bear in mind that not only has the Guardian kept these leaked documents from public view, it also has a history of very bad reporting on geoengineering (for example, see More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian, 7/19/12).  The Guardian also has a barely concealed working relationship with the ETC Group, which long ago erased any semblance of objective, unbiased reporting by its journalists on the subject of geoengineering (for example, see OIF Accusations Fly at CBD COP11, 10/17/12).  Hopefully more information from alternative sources will come to light over the next few days to provide a fuller picture of what is happening.

Monday, September 16, 2013

China Scaling Up Weather Modification

China's main weather modification agency, the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), is undertaking a national plan to increase the scale and coordination of rain and snow enhancement, hail suppression, and fog dispersal programs across the country.  Under this new, more systematic framework, weather modification activities will be organized along regional lines, with six major regions coordinated by a central interprovincial body.  The northeast, central, and southeast regions will seek to maximize the wheat harvest, the northwest region will focus on "environmental protection," the southwest region will promote agriculture and hydropower, and the northern region will aim to increase water supplies.  Overall, the government intends to increase annual precipitation by 60 billion metric tons and expand hail suppression to cover more than 540,000 square kilometers between now and 2020.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Britain's Astronomer Royal Joins Calls for More Research

Britain's official Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, has added his voice to recent calls for more research into geoengineering (for example, see Gore Down, Suzuki in the Middle on Geoengineering, 8/26).  Lord Rees, a former president of the Royal Society and current professor of cosmology at Cambridge University, made his appeal in closing remarks delivered at the British Science Festival in Newcastle on Thursday.  Research is warranted, Rees declared, due to the risks posed by global warming: "If the effect [of heightened CO2 levels] is strong, and the world consequently seems on a rapidly warming trajectory into dangerous territory, there may be a pressure for 'panic measures' ... These would have to involve a 'Plan B' - being fatalistic about continuing dependence on fossil fuels, but combating its effects by some form of geoengineering."  But Rees was careful to underscore the serious problems that would accompany any turn to geoengineering: "Geoengineering would be an utter political nightmare: not all nations would want to adjust the thermostat the same way."  The position of Astronomer Royal, while honorary, is very prestigious, and Rees' comments will likely carry some weight among the broader public.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Germany Passes CCS Law

After a long delay, the German parliament has passed a law permitting a limited number of CCS pilot projects to go forward.  Early versions of the bill would have allowed underground storage of up to 3 million tons of CO2, but the final text adopted by the Bundestag and Bundesrat allows for only 1.3 million tons of carbon storage.  The ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats carried the measure over the objections of the Greens and the Left party, while the opposition Social Democrats abstained from voting.  Importantly, the new law permits individual states to prohibit underground carbon storage within their jurisdictions.  Mecklenburg-West Pomerania currently prohibits CCS, and Schleswig-Holstein is considering a ban.

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).

Monday, July 29, 2013

US and China Announce Further Collaboration on CCS

The US-China Climate Change Working Group recently announced a set of cooperative mitigation initiatives, including a new joint CCUS program.  Specifically, the US and China will work to set up multiple integrated CCUS demonstration projects in both countries.  According to a new report from the Working Group, "The United States and China will undertake a three-tiered effort to identify integrated project sites; develop joint scientific and technical monitoring programs to manage information and lessons learned from the projects; and explore business-to-business joint cooperation for scaling up CCUS deployment."  In addition, a "regular high-level policy dialogue" will be held to exchange relevant information and ideas.  The Working Group also announced other "action initiatives" on vehicle emissions, smart grid, emissions data collection and management, and energy efficiency.

The bilateral Working Group was established in April of this year, and is scheduled to release detailed implementation plans for each new initiative by October.  The Obama Administration recently renewed its regulatory push to require CCS for all new coal plants (see EPA Advancing CCS Rule for New Power Plants, 7/5).  China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also recently published formal guidance on mandatory promotion of CCUS by all government entities (see China Issues CCUS Policy Statement, 7/11).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The CIA and Geoengineering?

The internet is abuzz with stories about CIA involvement in geoengineering research, following a new Mother Jones article titled "CIA Backs $630,000 Scientific Study on Controlling Global Climate."  Despite cries of vindication from some conspiracy theorists, the actual facts behind the headlines are rather mundane.  The CIA, along with NOAA and NASA, is supporting a National Academies of Science (NAS)-led 21-month project called "Geoengineering Climate: Technical Evaluation and Discussion of Impacts."  The purpose of the project is to "conduct a technical evaluation of a limited number of proposed geoengineering techniques, ... and comment generally on the potential impacts of deploying these technologies, including possible environmental, economic, and national security concerns."  Asked to explain, a CIA spokesman replied, "It's natural that on a subject like climate change the Agency would work with scientists to better understand the phenomenon and its implications on national security."

In truth, this is a relatively small-scale, fairly unremarkable research project that has been openly discussed in the public domain for some time now.  The outcome is likely to be indistinguishable from many other assessments and reports previously published on geoengineering.  Indeed, the CIA arguably would be negligent in its duties if it failed to keep abreast of current developments in this field.  But facts, or the absence thereof, too often lose out in competition with uninformed speculation and unrestrained flights of fancy.  Chemtrails, anyone?

Monday, July 15, 2013

EU-Funded IMPLICC Project Releases Synthesis Report

The Implications and Risks of Engineering Solar Radiation to Limit Climate Change (IMPLICC) modeling project, funded by the EU under Framework Programme 7 (FP7) (for background, see Update on EU-Funded Research, 7/19/12) has released its interim synthesis report for policymakers.  Key findings of the research include:

  • Model runs simulating space mirrors show that global temperature increases can be offset, but at the cost of suppressed precipitation relative to preindustrial conditions.
  • Stratospheric aerosol and marine cloud brightening models both show more muted climate responses, but termination effects are significant when either method is stopped abruptly.
  • The world economic effects of SRM are unclear, although they could be negative partially due to altered precipitation patterns.
The report concludes, "the potentially strong climate responses discussed here suggest that climate engineering cannot be seen as a substitute for a policy pathway of mitigating climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions" (p. 10).  Sadly, it bears repeating that no serious proposals to substitute geoengineering for mitigation exist, a fact which the authors of the IMPLICC report are most assuredly aware.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

China Issues CCUS Policy Statement

China's central National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has published an official Notice on promoting CCUS, designed to serve as guidance for all government ministries and agencies at national, regional, and local levels as well as major state-owned enterprises.  In its statement, the NDRC instructs these bodies to promote CCUS pilot and demonstration projects, and in doing so to "proceed from the national conditions in China, think and plan for the long-term, provide positive and active guidance, and progress development in an orderly manner" (p. 3).  The Commission outlines six key tasks:

  1. Cover the entire CCUS value chain
  2. Develop specific demonstration projects
  3. Set up financial incentive mechanisms
  4. Intensify research and planning efforts
  5. Formulate CCUS standards and regulations
  6. Improve capacity building and international collaboration
The NDRC will lead this national effort based on the program and principles laid out in the Notice.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Reforestation and Biochar in Haiti

As Haiti continues to rebuild in the aftermath of its devastating 2010 earthquake, multiple carbon management projects are now being implemented on the ground in an effort to promote long-term sustainability.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is actively supporting two reforestation projects in Haiti.  The first project has entailed the planting of 1.5 million seedlings to reforest 1,000 ha of previously deforested land in the Aquin and Saint-Louis watershed areas.  This project is being carried out as part of UNDP's broader Reducing the Vulnerability of People and Infrastructure in the South program. The second reforestation effort forms one component of the joint Haiti-Dominican Republic Green Border project, and has resulted in 514 ha of land being reforested.  Biochar is also gaining increased prominence in Haiti, as exemplified by the agricultural outreach activities conducted by Carbon Roots International.

Proponents point to a wide variety of benefits resulting from these projects: job creation, ecosystem recovery, enhanced resilience, improved agriculture, sustainable economic development.  But carbon sequestration is almost never among them.  The likely explanation is that project supporters are anxious to be seen helping locals meet real, immediate needs, rather than being portrayed as taking advantage of a desperate situation to cheaply "offset" historic misdeeds.  One way to resolve this is to give all carbon credits resulting from these types of projects to local stakeholders.  Unfortunately, the global carbon market is in such dire straits at the moment that such gestures are virtually meaningless.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Insights Into European Commission Views on Geoengineering

Comments made at the recent "International Governance of Climate Engineering" forum held in Brussels in June shed interesting light on official thinking about geoengineering within the European Commission.  One of the featured speakers at the event was Jacob Werksman,  who serves as Principal Advisor to the Commission's Directorate-General (DG) for Climate Action.  Werksman noted that the Commission itself has no explicit position on geoengineering, and cited two important reasons why.  First, the Commission does not want to undermine or destabilize ongoing negotiations within the UNFCCC by injecting such a charged issue into climate talks.  Second, the Commission is keen to emphasize non-climate benefits of mitigation actions such as improvements in public health and economic competitiveness, and does not want to jeopardize this message with potentially controversial statements or policies on geoengineering.

Werksman also offered his opinion on the preferred institutional setting for international deliberations on climate engineering.  In his view, the CBD has become excessively politicized due to the actions of certain NGOs and developing country members, and in the process has alienated key governments such as the US.  The UNFCCC, rather than the CBD, should coordinate discussions on geoengineering since it has a nearly global membership and a history of constructive institutional flexibility.  The extent to which Werksman's preference is shared by other staff at DG Climate Action is unknown.

Friday, July 5, 2013

EPA Advancing CCS Rule for New Power Plants

Following President Obama's high-profile climate speech last week, the EPA is quickly pushing forward with its 2012 draft New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) effectively requiring CCS for all new coal-fired power plants (for more, see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16/12).  A revised NSPS rule reflecting public feedback collected over a year-long comment period was originally due to be released in April, but publication was delayed in response to strong push back by the coal industry, which argued that the draft standard was too stringent.  Last week, however, Obama indicated that a revised standard would be released to the public no later than September 20, with final issuance planned for June 2014.  Obama also instructed EPA to present a draft performance standard for existing power plants by next June, with final release set for 2015.

To comply with this accelerated timeline, EPA reportedly delivered its revised NSPS draft to the White House on Monday, for further consideration by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other agencies.  The contents of the revised draft are confidential and unknown, although subject to intense speculation regarding what concessions Big Coal may have managed to extract from the administration.  OMB will communicate its findings to EPA in the next several weeks.

Friday, June 28, 2013

IMechE Calls on UK Government to Support BECCS

The influential British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has called on the UK government to expand its support for BECCS technology.  In a recent policy statement, IMechE considered the potential for future land-use tensions between crops grown for electricity production and crops grown for food.  According to its analysis, realistic projections of land required for BECCS power generation in 2050 range between 0.18 gigahectares (Gha) and 0.27 Gha globally.  This is compared to 4.13-8.83 Gha required for food production, out of a total 10 Gha capable of supporting biomass at the global level.  Such deployment of BECCS would result in 2.9-4.4 Gt of carbon sequestered per year.

Given the modest land-use requirements for BECCS compared to food production, IMechE concludes that, "in the case of current global aspirations for electricity production from biomass, those [land-use] tensions may be small.  Furthermore, through the use of an integrated management approach to food and biomass-based electricity production, ... they may indeed be eliminated."  Further taking into account the significant carbon storage potential of BECCS, IMechE recommends the UK government increase domestic and international support for BECCS, including "pursuing the future inclusion of 'negative emissions' credits in international climate change mitigation agreements."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Documents Shed Additional Light on 2012 Canadian Government Meeting

Newly available documents, both marked "SECRET," offer additional information on the previously undisclosed high-level Canadian government meeting on geoengineering held last summer (see Senior Canadian Government Meeting Looked at Geoengineering, 6/25).  The first document, an internal Natural Resources Canada memo written in preparation for the July 5 meeting, indicates that geoengineering was the primary focus of the meeting, and that invitees consisted of officials at the deputy minister level.  The memo is heavily redacted.

The second document is a slide deck that evidently served as Environment Canada's main presentation at the gathering.  Titled "Geoengineering: Science and Governance," the deck provides a standard overview of geoengineering and its conventional breakdown into CDR and SRM methods.  Interestingly, the concluding section, "Looking ahead," is completely redacted from the slide presentation.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Senior Canadian Government Meeting Looked at Geoengineering

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that a "secret" Canadian government meeting on worst-case climate scenarios took place last summer, and examined geoengineering as one potential response.  The meeting was convened by the former deputy minister of Environment Canada, Paul Boothe, and was closed to the public.  It is unclear who attended the meeting, but invitees included representatives from the Department of National Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, Natural Resources Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper's national security advisor declined to attend.

The newspaper obtained a presentation made by Environment Canada under Canada's freedom of information law.  In its presentation, the department stated that, "To avoid surpassing it [the 2 C warming target], global CO2 emissions must level off immediately, and decline to negative values before end of century (implying net CO2 extraction from atmosphere), or other means of moderating warming would be needed."  More specific details of the discussions on geoengineering are unavailable.  The inclusion of geoengineering on the meeting agenda was apparently spurred by a March 2012 email exchange between Boothe and Harvard professor David Keith.  It should be noted that this meeting occurred prior to last fall's disclosures regarding rogue OIF experiments off the coast of Haida Gwaii.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

June Haida OIF Test Postponed Indefinitely

Hot off the heels of removing Russ George as CEO (see Haida Boot Russ George, 5/25), the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), controlled by the Village of Old Massett, has cancelled a second OIF field test scheduled for June.  "I can't say if it will be done again ever.  I won't know until we get the results of the strategic review," said chief councillor Ken Rea, referring to a corporate review being conducted in the aftermath of George's abrupt termination.  For his part, George is contesting his removal as a director of HSRC, claiming that his private company Ocean Pastures owns 48% of HSRC shares and is therefore entitled to two of the four board seats.  According to George, "I shall remain a director of the HSRC and look forward to moving the business plan of the company forward."  George is not, however, disputing his removal as CEO.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Haida Boot Russ George

Days after publishing a curious opinion piece/sales pitch about the supposed success of OIF "ecoengineering" off Haida Gwaii, Russ George has been fired as CEO of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC).  The board of directors removed George as a director, terminated his employment, and named current president John Disney as interim CEO.  Disney has been a strong backer of the project all along, but evidently George's antics proved too much for him and other leaders of the Haida Village of Old Massett, which controls the company.  As Disney put it,  "While we are confident in the technology, process and buy-in are key.  That's why our emphasis is putting the right leadership and business plan in place."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New London Protocol Proposal to Regulate Marine Geoengineering

Australia, Nigeria, and South Korea have jointly proposed amendments to the London Protocol (LP) that would formally extend the instrument's remit beyond ocean fertilization to include other possible forms of marine geoengineering (such as enhanced weathering or ocean liming).  The proposal defines "marine geoengineering" broadly as "deliberate intervention in the marine environment to manipulate natural processes, including to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts, and that has the potential for widespread, long-lasting or severe effects."  A new annex to the Protocol would serve as a "positive list" specifying particular geoengineering techniques to be regulated under the LP; techniques not included on this list would remain subject to the regime's general prohibition on dumping of materials at sea.  The only activity listed in the proposed annex is ocean fertilization, which would continue to be permitted only in cases of "legitimate scientific research."  The proposal also includes a generic assessment framework (modeled on the existing Assessment Framework for ocean fertilization--see LC/LP Agrees on Ocean Fertilization Assessment Framework, 10/19/10) intended to serve as the basis for more specific frameworks used to arrive at permitting decisions for other geoengineering approaches added to the annex in the future.

In essence, this proposal establishes a procedural mechanism for regulating any geoengineering technique involving the introduction of materials to the sea, based on processes previously developed to address ocean fertilization.  Since the proposal takes the form of amendments to the London Protocol, if it is adopted, regulations covering ocean fertilization and other technologies would be legally binding rather than voluntary, as is currently the case with respect to operative resolutions on ocean fertilization.  Parties to the LC/LP will take up the proposal at a meeting this October.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

UAE Accelerates Cloud Seeding

In recent months the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dramatically increased the pace of cloud seeding operations.  Although the government launched a small-scale rainfall enhancement program ten years ago that grew gradually over the past decade, the number of cloud seeding flights in 2013 already surpasses all operations in 2012 by more than 30 percent.  In the month of April alone, the UAE's National Center for Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) conducted 47 separate missions.  Operations typically involve four airplanes firing flares containing salt crystals (potassium chloride and sodium chloride) in an attempt to induce increased rainfall.  The government is seeking to boost dwindling water supplies in the desert country.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Haida Fighting Back, Preparing for More Fertilization

After having data and samples related to its 2012 OIF dumping expedition seized by Environment Canada last month (see Haida Investigation Proceeding in Canada, 3/30), the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) has struck back with a legal motion to suspend the federal search warrants authorizing the seizures.  Lawyers affiliated with HSRC argue that the March raids were unconstitutional since there is no Canadian law applicable to ocean iron fertilization.  Environment Canada has responded that ocean fertilization is indeed illegal under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The HSRC is anxious for the return of these materials because it regards them as necessary for the conduct of a baseline study in May followed by a second round of dumping in June.  "But I can't see them getting away with this again," says Jim Thomas of ETC Group.  Hopefully the irony of an organization that views itself as a prime defender of indigenous rights, accusing a First Nations company of deception and illegality, is not entirely lost on the group.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Washington State Report Weighs in on CDR Techniques

Sweetening the Waters, a recent report on ocean acidification commissioned by the Washington state government, offers brief assessments of several CDR technologies as possible carbon sequestration methods.  Its primary focus in this regard is ocean iron fertilization (OIF), not surprising given Washington's proximity to Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.  In the view of the report's author,

No one in the scientific community (as opposed to "rogue geoengineer" Russ George) seems to argue that ocean iron fertilization is ready for commercial implementation yet.  Many believe that it deserves and demands more ocean trials, especially following the EIFEX results.  At some point they will have to consider more than the iron in the diatoms' diet--and reconsider not just the desirability but the feasibility of stimulating sinking plankton blooms. (p. 45)

The report also considers enhanced weathering: "Accelerated weathering seems a promising concept, especially when coupled with marine carbonate mitigation.  It may be ready to move from the laboratory to real-world trials.  But however much Washington's waters might benefit from such efforts, the economics don't favor them here as much as in other states" (pp. 46-47).  The document provides no new insights, but it does reflect the continuing spread of geoengineering concepts at the subnational level.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Haida Investigation Proceeding in Canada

The enforcement branch of Environment Canada has reportedly executed search warrants in its ongoing investigation of last summer's Haida ocean fertilization experiment (for background, see Loan Documents Shed Additional Light on HSRC Project, 10/23/12).  The department maintains that the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) did not submit an application for approval to conduct its iron fertilization activities, as required by law.  But leaders of the Village of Old Massett, who created and control HSRC, continue to fight back against outside criticism--in the words of Chief Councillor Ken Rea, "After all the uproar, based on a whole bunch of inflammatory mischaracterized words, after calling it illegal, calling it dumping, calling it rogue and not having any of the evidence to back up their statements, none of it, they have no evidence to back all these statements up, we have it." Meanwhile, residents of Skidegate, the other major Haida community in British Columbia, are distancing themselves from Old Massett, blaming HSRC for ruining their green reputation.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

European Commission Split on How to Advance CCS

Last summer, the European Commission declared its intention to select two or three European CCS projects for major awards by the end of 2012 under the EU's NER300 funding program (see Update on NER300, 8/10/12).  But these first round funding plans fell apart in December, after the Commission was unable to persuade any Member State to provide the required 50 percent cost share for candidate projects.  Faced with this setback, the Commission shifted the entire 275 million ($357.8 million) dedicated to CCS under the program to the second and final NER300 funding round, with final award decisions expected by the end of 2013.

Now, with national governments apparently unwilling to support projects, and funding levels much lower than originally anticipated (since they are based on sales of ETS emission allowances, which plummeted in value following adoption of the NER300 funding framework), Brussels is considering other ways to propel CCS forward in Europe.  According to a draft "communication" currently circulating within the Commission, given the moribund state of the European carbon market, "there is no rational case for economic operators to invest in CCS," and "it is unrealistic to assume that industry will commit the appropriate investments to CCS projects."  Rather than relying on ETS-based NER300 funding, the draft proposes alternative strategies to promote CCS uptake, including emissions performance standards for power plants and tradable CCS certificates akin to renewable energy certificates (RECs).  The performance standards proposed by the UK as part of its Electricity Market Reform (EMR) initiative (see Electricity Market Reform in the UK, 12/9/12) are singled out as a potential model for the rest of the EU.  However, the Directorate-General for Climate Action reportedly opposes releasing the communication and triggering a public consultation, preferring instead to drive CCS deployment through the ETS carbon market.

CCS performance standards is a good idea whose time has come.  The ETS has manifestly failed to deliver CCS to Europe, either through cap-and-trade carbon prices or as a source of capital funding.  Despite proposals to bolster allowance prices by "backloading" auctions to temporarily restrict supply, the ETS is clearly too weak to overcome the cost constraints inherent to carbon capture.  Short of a robust carbon tax, emissions performance standards offer the best way to ensure widespread adoption of CCS technology and deployment of integrated systems (for more, see Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16/12).  The climate directorate should drop its objections and support the new proposals from the Commission.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Two New Studies Underline Need for Research Now

Two recently published articles underscore the need for aggressive funding of solar geoengineering research, including field experiments, as quickly as possible.  The first, by Valerie Livina and Tim Lenton, presents a convincing case that the Earth has already passed a planetary tipping point, namely, the cratering of Arctic sea-ice volume and extent widely reported in summer 2007.  According to the authors, this contraction marked not only a record low (since surpassed--see Call for Immediate Arctic Deployment Dismissed by UK Parliamentary Committee, 9/24/12), but a transition to a new, reduced, less stable state.  Data since 2007 suggest that sea-ice has shifted permanently to this new equilibrium--as Lenton describes it, "This wasn't a one-off, it was a permanent change."

The second study affirms recent climatic changes but also highlights the ameliorative potential of stratospheric aerosols.  A team at the University of Colorado Boulder has demonstrated that sulfur emissions from relatively small volcanoes worked to suppress global average temperature increases between 2000 and 2010.  Approximately one quarter of the warming that would have taken place over this period was likely offset by sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere derived from these eruptions.  "This new study indicates it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been slowing the warming of the planet," says lead author Ryan Neely.  Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, by comparison, is regarded as a large volcano.

Meanwhile, the sequester has struck Washington, and there is no new information on possible geoengineering research funding (see Obama Administration Considering Possible Research Funding, 1/29).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Indonesia Launches Cloud Seeding Program

Following severe flooding in Jakarta last month, the Indonesian military has begun cloud seeding operations intended to induce rainfall outside the capitol.  Large transport aircraft are being used to disperse 5 metric tons of salt per sortie in offshore clouds in an attempt to shift precipitation out to sea.  Unsurprisingly, regional experts are expressing skepticism about the program's effectiveness.

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.