In the fight against climate change, carbon capture is crucial

October 16, 2009

chalmers_small– Hannah Chalmers is a postgraduate researcher at the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey. All views expressed are her own –

This week the International Energy Agency launched a series of detailed technology roadmaps covering 19 technologies that are expected to be important in mitigating the risk of dangerous of climate change. One of these was for carbon capture and storage (CCS).

At the same time, energy and environment ministers were attending a meeting convened by the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum. Their final communiqué affirmed CCS as “an important element of any effective response to climate change” and described a series of industrial-scale demonstration projects as “vital”. But, what is CCS? Why does it matter? And can it deliver?

The principle is simple. To avoid dangerous climate change it is very likely that we need to avoid a significant proportion of the carbon dioxide emissions that could be produced by fossil fuels that we already know how to access at reasonable cost. It is, therefore, necessary to either (1) convince countries with fossil fuels to leave them in the ground unused, essentially forever, or (2) ensure that the vast majority of carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel use does not end up in the atmosphere.
CCS projects implement the second option. They collect carbon dioxide that is produced by fossil fuels (or biofuels which also contain carbon).

In a typical scheme, this captured carbon dioxide is then transported and injected into a geological formation at least 1 kilometre below the earth’s surface. Getting CCS to work matters because it should make it much easier for countries with large fossil fuel reserves, and particularly coal-rich countries such as the USA and China, to sign up to serious global action on climate change.

A range of technologies for CCS are under development and are at different stages of maturity. For the options closest to commercial deployment, the main technical challenges tend to centre on adapting, enlarging and integrating proven approaches from existing industries. There are some initial trial units already in operation, but further large-scale demonstration is needed before CCS can be seen as ‘business-as-usual’.

Although some engineering challenges remain, most of the significant hurdles to a successful global rollout of CCS are not technical. CCS adds to the cost of using fossil fuels for the sole purpose of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but it typically receives much less support than other developing low carbon options with similar costs. Implementing CCS also requires that the general public and other key players become comfortable with the risks and opportunities of a new industry. This takes time, but there is general agreement that we must act quickly on climate change.

As the Copenhagen negotiations approach, a number of commentators are discussing what a ‘global deal’ might look like. The ministers at the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum concluded that the “viability of CCS as a key mitigation technology should be recognized in appropriate international legal frameworks including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”.

An important contribution a Copenhagen agreement could make for CCS would be including it in any agreements on accelerating global technology development. This should include appropriate action on improving global carbon dioxide storage availability estimates and capacity building so that countries that need to use CCS, including developing nations, are able to adapt appropriate CCS technologies to their local conditions and are ready to operate CCS schemes effectively.

It is unlikely that CCS will be seen as critical part of the Copenhagen deal by many observers. CCS could, however, be increasingly important as it facilitates much more ambitious action in the future. But, it cannot play this vital role without sufficient support for rapid implementation of a suite of initial commercial-scale projects.

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There is a ground swell of popular rejection of the Australian Government’s attempts to impose a “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme” (CPRS) which will seriously weaken the Australian economy. The UN’s Copenhagen Climate Change Conference fast approaches and UN politicians are become more and more concerned that no worthwhile agreement will be reached. It is reported (Note 1) that QUOTE: World leaders must intervene to rescue flagging climate talks by brokering in person a deal to combat global warming in Copenhagen in December, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday. UNQUOTE. It is claimed by The Australian newspaper (Note 2) that QUOTE: Denmark has proposed Australia play a leadership role at the conference, acting as a “friend of the chair” for the purposes of negotiating agreement at the meeting. UNQUOTE. Panic is setting in and is being reported on around the globe.

On the other hand it is satisfying to see that the developing economies are not prepared to fall in line with the politicians of the UN and EU. The Australian also comments (Note 3) that QUOTE: Fast-developing nations such as China and India will strongly resist being bound by internationally agreed targets and will not allow the solidarity of the G77 negotiating bloc of developing nations to be broken. UNQUOTE. Turkey’s Zaman reports (Note 4) QUOTE: Other nations including India, China, Brazil and Mexico have agreed to draw up national programs to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but have so far resisted making those limits binding and subject to international monitoring in a treaty. Worries over the US and China have led to mounting pessimism that a deal can be struck in Copenhagen without major policy changes. “The prospects that states will actually agree to anything in Copenhagen are starting to look worse and worse,” Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN scientific panel studying climate change, wrote in a Friday post on the Newsweek Web site. UNQUOTE.

In other words, the developing nations, who are preparing to grow their economies significantly and will fuel this growth through the use of fossil fuels, will not agree any commitments on the emissions of carbon dioxide. They know that there is no need for them and that global climates will not be affected by them. This is wonderful news for those of us who recognise the UN’s climate change propaganda for what it really is, a scare-mongering campaign having two major objectives, redistribution of wealth and global government. It has nothing to do with trying to control global climates.

Australian politicians are wising up to the damage that any emissions restrictions will have on their economy, as exemplified in a presentation by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi (Note 5). Have a listen at wg&feature=player_embedded. Also take a look at this historical summary of climate change scares since 1895 (Note 6) and at this article on the already reducing rate of change in levels of atmospheric CO2 (Note 7). You may learn something.

1) see 19/brown-urges-leaders-to-broker-climate -deal-in-person.htm
2) see ry/0,25197,26266711-601,00.html
3) see ry/0,25197,26196377-11949,00.html
4) see 90406-britain-leaders-must-broker-climat e-deal-in-person.html
5) see wg&feature=player_embedded
6) see -who-fail-to-learn-from-history/climate- change-timeline/
7) see  /06/co2-in-the-atmosphere-is-decreasing -how-will-the-global-warming-crowd-expla in-that.html

Best regards, Pete Ridley, Human-made global climate change agnostic.

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