Poznan, Poland, December 11, 2008: Over the last few days of intense negotiations at the 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has emerged as one of the most controversial issues being discussed. CCS entails capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal and other fossil fuel-based power plants and industrial plants and storing it permanently in geological formations underground.
“The division lines are clear,” said Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE); Narain is leading a team from CSE at the meet. Developed countries including Norway, the members of the European Union (EU), Australia and Japan, with strong support from Saudi Arabia, are pushing for CCS to be included as technology under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Developing countries led by Brazil, Venezuela and Jamaica are vehemently protesting against inclusion of a nascent and yet to be fully developed technology under the trading mechanism. At heart are issues like technology and liability, and legal, ethical, financial and methodological aspects.
Owing to strong protests from these countries, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) "did not agree to adopt" the inclusion of CCS under CDM and "therefore could not conclude its consideration of this issue", reports the CSE team.
CCS not suitably developed yet, say developing nations
In a very strongly worded submission to the SBSTA, Brazil has said: "The appeal of large quantities of cheap credits for Annex 1 parties (developed countries who have to make mandatory cuts under the Kyoto Protocol) should not hide the bad consequences of taking CCS under the CDM… It would destabilise the carbon market, would be a perverse incentive to developing countries, would prevent small-scale projects and would prevent further equitable participation. Finally, it would divert the central idea of the CDM, which is to promote long-term benefits in the direction of low-carbon economy, towards creating subsidies to enhance fossil fuel production."
Developing countries are particularly sensitive about the developed world pushing a developing and yet to be fully understood technology on them. Almost all of them have asked developed countries to first develop and implement the technology within their boundaries and prove it to be successful, before it can be considered under the trading mechanism. Asked Venezuela: “Why don't the countries who are defending this technology, implement CO2 storage in their own territories if they claim it to be so safe?”
An imperfect innovation?
“Questions have been raised over CCS as a technology being safe and secure and whether it can be considered as a long-term mitigation option,” points out Narain. To be more specific, there is insufficient experience with CO2 reservoir operation, and there remains a potential risk of a catastrophic event resulting in run-away climate change. Also, CCS as a CDM project activity will adversely affect the carbon market and take away funds from cleaner technologies like renewables, feel experts.
Adds Chandra Bhushan, associate director, CSE and one of the members of the team at Poznan: “Experience with the operation of such a large CO2 reservoir is insufficient to decide on the risk of seepage over a long period of time and over a wider area. But perhaps the most controversial aspects of CCS are the liability and environmental impacts.”
In fact, the SBSTA document compiling the views of parties and organisations reports that "in considering the environmental impacts of CO2 storage, an organisation suggested that CCS would result in further environmental impacts of mining activities because of a 30 per cent increase in energy demand by coal-fired power plants employing CCS."
Project proponents, however, contend that CCS is a proven technology with several decades of experience in capture, transport, storage and monitoring of CO2 already accumulated in the oil and gas industry in Canada, Norway and the US. They say it is one of the most promising technologies to reduce emissions from production and use of fossil fuels and can complement other climate change mitigation actions during the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Liability is a controversial topic as well: the project proponent liability in the current scenario is limited to 21 or 60 years, the longest period CDM is currently dealing with. Since it is impossible for the project proponents to be responsible beyond this time-frame, it has been proposed that long-term liability be transferred to the project host country (the developing countries where such projects come up).
But as Brazil contended, “Transferring responsibility means transferring monitoring procedures, costs and remediation measures in the case of unexpected CO2 escaping back to the atmosphere or to saline waters. Besides all the risks in terms of environmental impacts and public health, it is not possible to estimate those costs and to calculate a present value to internalise those costs in the project activity." Brazil added that transferring liability and costs in such a manner "is unacceptable for it means that private profit in the short term will be supported by public loss in the long term".
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