Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Twitter Feed

For those interested, please note that I have begun maintaining a companion Twitter feed @joshuahorton533.  I will continue to post longer blog entries here on occasion, but will use Twitter for shorter updates.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

German Government News from CEC14

There's plenty of politics going on here at CEC14 in Berlin.  The only newsworthy bit, however, comes from Georg Schutte, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.  In welcoming remarks on Monday, Schutte stated that it was necessary to consider a "Plan B" in case mitigation and adaptation efforts prove insufficient.  This makes ethical research on climate engineering essential.  International regulation is also essential, but the UNFCCC is not the appropriate forum at present.  The German government, according to Schutte, does not believe that geoengineering should be placed on the international political agenda right now, but is open to helping construct international "guardrails" for geoengineering research.  Scientific research should focus on comprehensive risk assessments, feasible technologies, and demonstrable benefits.  Overall, he said, the German government wants to encourage a serious discussion of climate engineering, but not "pave the way" for eventual deployment.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stringent Conditions for Treating SRM as a Climate Emergency Response?

Under what conditions is it appropriate to treat SRM as a possible response option in the event of a climate emergency?  Given the risks involved, an abundance of caution is warranted.  Here is my sketch of one potential decision tree.  Thoughts?


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alternating Fortunes for CCS

At long last the EPA has released its proposed rule for existing fossil-fuel power plants, following up on its proposed rule for new fossil-fuel plants released last year (see EPA Releases Revised Performance Standard Requiring CCS, 9/23/13).  Unlike the previous rule, yesterday's proposal does not call for mandatory CCS for coal-fired plants.  Instead, EPA would allow states maximum flexibility in devising plans to meet new carbon pollution limits.  EPA has prescribed state-specific CO2 goals which, if met collectively, would achieve a 30 percent reduction in power sector carbon emissions (relative to 2005 levels) by 2030.

Some had hoped that EPA would require CCS retrofits for existing coal plants, but cost and other concerns led the agency to pursue a more flexible approach.  Three new legislative proposals, however, would deliver some additional support to CCS.  The Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation (ACCTION) bill, introduced by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), would provide an additional $2 billion in loan guarantees to CCS projects, increase the existing "45Q" tax credit for carbon sequestration to 30 percent, and create price supports for CO2 used in EOR.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced his own twin CCS bills.  The Carbon Capture and Sequestration Deployment Act would stabilize the 45Q sequestration tax credit, establish a new investment tax credit covering up to 30 percent of incremental CCS costs, and authorize an additional $20 billion in loan guarantees.  The Expanding Carbon Capture through Enhanced Oil Recovery Act would expand and reform the 45Q tax credit to increase oil production and carbon sequestration via EOR, along lines recommended by the National EOR Initiative (NEORI) two years ago (see DAC and EOR, 4/22/12).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IPCC Gives Major Boost to CDR, BECCS

IPCC Working Group III released its AR5 report on mitigation last week, and one effect was to give a considerable boost to the visibility and credibility of CDR, in particular BECCS.  It has been less than five years since the Royal Society report was released, and until recently CDR and BECCS were generally unknown acronyms.  Yet now CDR methods have been incorporated into IPCC mitigation scenarios so deeply that, in the view of WGIII, achieving the 2C target (let alone 1.5C) is very difficult without reliance on negative emissions technologies (similar assumptions are now built into UK government scenarios.)  It is worth quoting the Summary for Policymakers discussion of CDR at some length:

Mitigation scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq in 2100 [i.e., 2C] typically involve temporary overshoot of atmospheric concentrations, as do many scenarios reaching about 500 ppm to 550 ppm CO2eq in 2100.  Depending on the level of the overshoot, overshoot scenarios typically rely on the availability and widespread deployment of BECCS and afforestation in the second half of the century.  The availability and scale of these and other Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks … CDR is also prevalent in many scenarios without overshoot to compensate for residual emissions from sectors where mitigation is more expensive (p. 15).

As the summary notes, there are real risks associated with BECCS and other NETs, such as potential land-use and food security issues related to biomass cultivation.  But there are serious risks associated with surpassing 450 ppm, arguably bigger risks than those connected to most CDR techniques.  In the end, climate policy involves risk trade-offs, whether those trade-offs apply to mitigation, adaptation, geoengineering, or all three.  The IPCC has done policy-makers a great service by emphasizing the significant risks entailed in not taking BECCS and other forms of CDR seriously.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who Should Pay for Solar Geoengineering Liability?

I have been conducting research on the problem of liability and compensation in the context of solar geoengineering, that is, how would the international community address damages resulting from large-scale testing or deployment of SRM?  This is a multifaceted problem, and one of its most difficult aspects would be determining who should pay for such damages.  One solution that has suggested itself is to set up an international compensation fund financed by the fossil fuel industry.  Since any damages caused by SRM would essentially be the negative side effects of a response measure intended to remediate harms caused by excessive fossil fuel use, and fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity, it stands to reason that they should be the ones to pay for its cleanup.  This is precisely how the international oil spill liability regime works--the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds, financed exclusively by oil companies, have paid out more than $700 million in compensation since 1978, while the frequency and severity of oil spills have fallen dramatically.

A recent report by Richard Heede titled Carbon Majors identifies precisely who these fossil fuel companies are and how much climate damage they have contributed.  Here is a table from the report listing the top twenty worst offenders:
This is hardly a definitive assessment of the carbon legacy of coal, oil, and gas producers, but it is a good start, and provides a valuable quantitative estimate of contributions to cumulative carbon and methane emissions.  Such estimates could conceivably form the basis of formulas to determine "carbon major" contributions to a solar geoengineering liability compensation fund.

Friday, January 17, 2014

IPCC Acknowledges Likely Need for CDR, Al Gore Unloads

Reuters and the New York Times have both obtained a draft version of the IPCC's third and final AR5 summary report on mitigation.  According to news accounts, the draft summary recognizes the possible necessity of CDR in the future, noting that if the world breaches the 2C threshold, governments will probably need to "deploy CDR technologies to an extent that net global carbon dioxide emissions become negative" this century.

In a conference call with reports, Al Gore responded to the news by unleashing a torrent of invective at geoengineering and those who support research into it.  Here are some notable quotes:

  • Geoengineering would be "insane, utterly mad and delusional in the extreme."
  • "The fact that some scientists who should know better are actually engaged in serious discussion of those alternatives is a mark of how desperate some of them are feeling due to the paralysis in the global political system."
  • "The most discussed so-called geoengineering proposals - like putting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight - that's just insane.  Let's just describe that clearly - it is utterly mad."
  • "We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity.  So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme."
This is disappointing.  In the first place, Gore has the basic facts wrong--SRM would not "exactly counteract" global warming.  No researchers argue this, in fact they emphasize that this is not possible and trade-offs would be inevitable.  His statement that researchers "should know better" comes across as patronizing and insulting to the many excellent scientists working in this field.  And using words like "insane," "mad," and "delusional" drags the debate into the gutter.  Those searching for solutions to the climate crisis deserve better than this.