CCS: Fictitious mitigation stumbles

Over the last few days of intense negotiations, Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as one of the most controversial issues being discussed at the CoP 14. The division lines are clear. Developed countries like Norway and the European Union as a whole, 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 many issues like technology, liability, legal, ethical, financial and methodological aspects.

In a very strongly worded submission to Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (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 destabilize 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 to wards 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. Venezuela in its verbal statement at the plenary session of the meeting raised the pertinent question of why don't the developed countries implement CCS in their own territory if they consider it to be very safe.

Almost all of them asked the developed countries to first develop and implement the technology within their boundaries and prove it to be successful before it could be considered under the trading mechanism. Owing to strong protests from these countries the SBSTA "did not agree to adopt" the inclusion of CCS under CDM and "therefore could not conclude its consideration of this issue".

CCS entails capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal and other fossil-fuel based power plants and industrial plants and store it permanently in geological formations underground. Currently, there are several technological challenges in doing this. 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.

Also experience with operation of such a large CO2 reservoir is insufficient to decide on risk of seepage over a long period of time and over wider area. But perhaps the most controversial aspect of CCS are the liability and environmental impacts. "In considering the environmental impacts of CO2 storage, an organization 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," summed up the SBSTA document compiling the views of parties and organisations.

Brazil in its submission has made it clear that project proponent liability in the current scenario is limited to 21 or 60 years, the longest period CDM is currently dealing with. But beyond this period there is uncertainty about who will be liable. Since it is impossible for the project proponents to be responsible beyond this time frame, existing proposal propose transferring the long term liability by to the project host country, which under the CDM mechanism will be the developing countries where such projects come up.

"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 internalize those costs in the project activity," Brazil submitted adding 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".

Norway argues in its submission that "long-term liability should be agreed upon between the host country and the project participants" and "the CDM executive board should ensure that the issue of liability is appropriately addressed in the project design document (PDD)". However the past irregularities in the design of PDDs leave a big question mark on how this can be ensured. At its statement at the Plenary session Jamaica made it clear that CDM cannot be used as a testing ground for CCS technology and it could be a an agenda item for development and transfer of technology of technology from developed to developing countries.

Saudi Arabia was visibly upset at the plenary session and asked for CCS to be discussed at the ministerial segment of the meting which takes place on December 11 and 12.

What the proponents said :-
  • CCS 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 United States of America.
  • CCS 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
Major issues with CCS technology :-
  • Lack of sufficient experience with CSS to decide whether the technology offers a safe, secure, widespread and long-term mitigation option for inclusion in CDM
  • Experience with CO2 reservoir operation insufficient

  • Future risk of catastrophic event resulting in run-away climate change
  • CCS as a CDM project activity will adversely affect carbon market and take away funds from cleaner technologies like renewables
Excerpts from final submissions of parties at the Plenary session

Saudi Arabia: Fossil fuel will be used and continue to be used. If we are serious then the only means open to us would be to do capture and storage of CO2. It could be one mechanism developed under CDM. We share European Union's sentiment of disappointment (over no decision of inclusion CCS under CDM) and sad we could not move ahead on this issue. It is important to tell the world of the divergence of opinion. Raising question (at the ministerial segment) is essential. There are no doubts about the technology. We have to be serious if we really want to face up to the challenge of climate change. This issue must and ought to be discussed at the ministerial meeting.

Australia: We fully support the introduction of CCS projects under the CDM mechanism. We regard it as a critical technology for the future. We are denying the countries the opportunity to choose their development path. We are disappointed that we have not been able to reach agreement on this issue. We hope we can move forward in Bonn.

Norway: We have failed a mandate given by CMP2. We cannot meet the eventual goal of the convention without the use of CCS. We need all technologies and need CDM as an incentive to private companies to invest in CCS. We strongly regret the failure (at this meeting) to include it under CDM. Several potential projects waiting. Early deployment of this technology is important to meet long term goal. Will ask CMP 4 for further guidance.

Japan: Disappointed over no decision reached. CCS technology is promising. Without it we cannot meet the ultimate goal of convention. We would like to keep consulting.

Jamaica: According to experts the technology is not yet ready for final usage. CDM cannot be used as a testing ground. It is a perfect agenda item for development and transfer of technology from the developed to the developing countries.

Brazil: We believe developing CCS is necessary for mitigation. We are developing national projects on CCS. The issue here is about the introduction of CCS in CDM. We have to note that technical doubts exist on the long term permanence and liability. We have to monitor after credits have expired. Need caution.

Venezuela: We agree with all technologies that might help all countries to combat climate change. However, not the technologies that might generate greater risk. IPCC 4th report says that the technology has not been fully tested. Not so much the technology but the chemical interaction that occurs when carbon is stored. At least 100 year guarantee is required that there will not be any leaks. We cannot imagine what will happen if were to happen. It is still a developing technology. No country present here can fully guarantee that this technology is absolutely safe. IPCC should be asked to undertake a special study to clear the uncertainties. Why don't the certain countries who are defending this technology implement CO2 storage in their own territory if they claim it to be so safe. Very important for developed nations to develop CCS in their countries and use it in Joint Implementation. Developed country can develop CCS among themselves and once they have sorted out all the issues we can also do the same.