Cost of mitigation: How cheap can it be

All discussions, efforts and side events in Poznan are held with a single point agenda of getting the developing nations to take up some commitment to reduce emission. Rich nations and civil society from those nations are working extra time to cook up projects and methodologies that will force developing countries to commit actions, where rich countries will buy credit at a cheap rate and without any domestic reduction. There is no talk about the unkept promises of emission reduction by the Annex 1 countries.

In this context, all talk about costs of managing climate change normally centre around a market based mechanism that will probably help rich nations to attend carbon neutral economy only through various trading with the developing nations.

In a side event organized by Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change (CMCC), noting forcefully the cost of delayed action on climate change, the large part of the discussion went around a market-based system. And keeping in tune with the COP14, discussion on REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries) took up a large part.

Massimo Tavoni, from Princeton Environmental Institute made a presentation that gave Brazilian Amazon as a case study and went on to suggest that REDD could be the biggest saviour for climate change mitigation. The presentation argued that an attractive carbon price will provide ample incentive for nations with tropical forest to avoid deforestation.

It was argued that a proper management of REDD will avoid 90% of tropical deforestation emission by 2050. But more interestingly, REDD is being promoted as it is believed to be lowering the cost of stabilasion at 500 ppm of CO2e by 10-25%. Hardselling REDD, the presenter argued that the saved money can be used for stabilization at lower concentration!

Understandably, the large group of financial consultants present in this kind of presentations, started speculating possibilities in REDD and comparing its effectivity with other technological options. It took Jean-Charles Hourcade of CIRED, a veteran at climate negotiation to point out that conservation of forest was not a product in a shop window which could be bought at will.

He said that avoiding deforestation of tropical forest cannot be promoted with an attractive carbon price only, layers of social angles needed to be worked out for effective conservation. In fact, the most controversial part of the REDD discussion is hazy future about the forest dwellers’ right over the forest. It is easy to frame up a theoretical conservation process and push it down the throat of the developing nations. But not much thought has gone into operationalising them in a real world.

A similar logic can also be drawn on another mitigation option of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). While rich nations are canvassing CCS as a clean coal option, no one takes into account of transportation of coal, and more importantly, unclean mining practices.

It is now amply clear that rich nations have decided to meet their commitment only by buying credits from developing countries. This will need the rich countries to use a mix of coercive methods and dangling of carrots. But make no mistake, rich nations want to get out of the mess they have created very cheap.

To capture or not
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is one of the most controversial and discussed issues at the CoP 14. Norway along with Saudi Arabia have been leading the charge to get CCS approved under the CDM mechanism. Several environmental groups have vehemently opposed such a plan asking for trading mechanism to be focussed on renewables instead.Norway has been trying hard to get the base-line and monitoring methodology approved. Any decision was postponed at the last CoP in Bali for lack of clarity on safety and cost issues.

In a side-event organised on December 8, The Bellona Foundation, a Norway-based NGO, came out in staunch support of CCS technology. Frederic Hauge, president of the Foundation presented the details of what he called as "The Bellona scenario". Under this scenario they "show a possible combination of solutions that together reduce emissions by 85 per cent by 2050. Quite obviously, CCS plays a key role in attaining this level of emissions. Questions however remain about the costs of this technology and the post-2050.

"CCS combined with biomass is the only way we have to reduce global warming. In the European Union 40-50 percent emsission reduction is possible through CCS," said Hauge. He presented to major technological option under the CCS. Simple CCS entails capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and industrial plants and store it permanently in geological formations. Going a step further CCS is combined with biomass to attain "carbon negative energy".

Under this atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by growing modern biomass and non-agricultural land and use it in power plants fitted with CCS to achieve net negative emissions. The technology however is at a very nascent stage and hardly a few demonstration plants currently operate. United States recently announced setting up of five CCS facilities in the country.

Hauge informed the audience that 12 demonstration plants have been planned and atleast one of them would come in wither India or China. For China he made another ambitious proposal. "In China there are large number of coal mine fires that constantly burn. Emissions from these fires are about the same as emissions from the entire aviation industry. We can set up a 100 megawatt coal-fired plant in China with CCS. You will have CO2 available to extinguish all these fires," Hauge proposed. However what will it cost to set up such CCS facilities is a very grey area.

In fact the Bellona principle is based on ignoring the initial costs. "For the Bellona scenario, we have chosen to focus less on cost, since the actual cost of a particular solution is subject to change as market conditions change". Another important issues is tat of site availability. It is still not clear whether enough sites are available to store the huge amount of CO2 proposed to capture over the next 30 plus years. In addition there are several concerns about the stability and safety of such sequestration sites. The debate goes on.