POZNAN REPORT: Battle lines drawn over carbon storage

Posted: 11 December 2008

Battle lines at the Poznan climate conference are drawn over the question of the capture and storage of carbon. Developed nations want it to be included as a mitigation technology under the Clean Development Mechanism. The developing world opposes the idea, saying the technology is still undeveloped and inadequately tested. This report is from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) team at Poznan.

Over the last few days of intense negotiations at the 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UN 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.

Carbon storage, Norway
Carbon storage, Norway
The Sleipner A project injects carbon dioxide into saltwater aquifers deep beneath the sea floor off the Norwegian coast. Photo © Statoil
"The division lines are clear," said CSE Director, Sunita Narain. 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 what they regard as 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", the CSE team says.

Bad consequences

In a strongly worded submission to the SBSTA, Brazil 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 not yet fully worked out or 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. Venezuela, for one, asked the countries who are defending this technology, to implement CO2 storage in their own territories if they claim it to be so safe?"

"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," says Narain. There is insufficient experience with CO2 reservoir operation, and there remains a potential risk of a catastrophic event resulting in run-away climate change. Moreover, she says, CCS as a CDM project activity will adversely affect the carbon market and take away funds from cleaner technologies like renewables, feel experts.

Chandra Bhushan, CSE associate director, added: "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."

'Promising technology'

CO2 capture using oxyfuel combustion
CO2 capture using oxyfuel combustion
CO2 capture using oxyfuel combustion. Photo credit Bellona Foundation
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 another controversial topic: project 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".

CSE is an Indian NGO, based in Delhi.For more on this and other CSE reports from Poznan, please go to www.cseindia.org