20151207-KarenPinkus2-600x298.jpg

The very term "geoengineering" is controversial. I won't go into much detail here except to say that climate change is arguably the largest geoengineering project ever undertaken by humans, so it's probably better to specify "geoengineering for carbon mitigation."  

Carbon Capture and Clean Development

December 8, 2015

20151207-KarenPinkus2-600x298.jpg

The very term "geoengineering" is controversial. I won't go into much detail here except to say that climate change is arguably the largest geoengineering project ever undertaken by humans, so it's probably better to specify "geoengineering for carbon mitigation." Some people acknowledge two broad types: solar radiation management—altering the atmosphere to reflect the sun's heat and light away—and carbon dioxide removal, including a variety of techniques for capturing carbon from the atmosphere and burying it either underground or under the ocean floor. SRM is really taboo: I haven't heard a word about it at COP.

Karen PinkusPinkus, a professor of Romance Studies and Comparative Literature, is a member of Cornell's COP21 delegation (watch her COP21 video)

I did go to an event organized by several European groups already working on carbon capture and storage. It was a very small audience—primarily Scandinavians. Norway is already doing CCS in the North Sea. Some people say CCS is like giving up on decarbonization or carbon neutrality, and this is to say nothing of possible collateral damage. It might even encourage countries that use CCS to burn more fossil fuels. But to me the presentations sounded very rational. Even for a country like Norway—with a small population and a low carbon footprint—to meet its goals, they think it's essential that we take carbon out of the atmosphere at different points and bury it under the ocean floor.

Several speakers mentioned Poland, an EU member with a large fossil fuel dependency (nearly 100 percent coal). Wouldn't it be good for them to have CCS as an option on the path to "less than 2 degrees"? But of course, there's not much incentive to pay for this when it's free to dump C02 into the atmosphere right now. "We need to start with a market," said one of the speakers. I started to feel down, and my mind drifted, but I perked up when they mentioned Iceland's storage capacity in young basalts. Not a bad band name, I thought.

And speaking of markets, over in one of the negotiating rooms, they were discussing some phrasing around the clean development mechanism (CDM). This is essentially a way for developing countries to earn emission credits. It's been in place since Kyoto, so it's nothing new, but today they were debating what other new powers the CDM's executive board might have. Should the new agreement include language either "requesting" or "encouraging" the CDM as a tool for "other uses"? Bolivia and Venezuela wanted no mention of "market mechanisms" in the new document. Fiji, in contrast, noted that there are already "other things" going on, so why not make sure the outcomes are positive? The facilitator wondered if the parties would be okay with "interactions" with markets, rather than "synergies." The secretariat edited on screen, adding two commas as suggested by one of the parties. There was apparently consensus on holding a future workshop to discuss the future of the CDM.