x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE may get UN funds for clean air

The UAE stands to benefit financially from a proposal to bury carbon pollution underground, but only if it is earmarked for funding next weekend by a United Nations clean technology scheme.

CANCUN, MEXICO // The UAE stands to benefit financially from a proposal to bury carbon pollution underground, but only if it is earmarked for funding next weekend by a United Nations clean technology scheme.

The move, which other oil-producing nations put forward as a way to prevent dangerous changes to the world's climate, was one of several draft decisions at the UN climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, this weekend.

Attended by leaders from nearly 200 countries, the talks aim to find consensus on how the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be shared.

The draft decisions, discussed by expert teams on Saturday evening, will be put forward for adoption on Friday, when top-level government officials conclude the climate negotiations.

Should the move go forward, the UAE - as well as other countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Norway and China - will benefit, said Armen Vartanian, the director of Dubai-based EcoVentures.

A positive vote on Friday will mean the technology, known to experts as carbon capture and storage (CCS), will be awarded credits by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This funding scheme is financed by industrialised countries, which are thought to bear the historic responsibility for climate change.

"The inclusion of CCS means that large amounts of carbon credits can be generated from oil and gas projects," said Mr Vartanian.

"And fossil fuel resources that might have been uneconomical previously could become feasible financially."

The carbon credits, bought by rich countries to offset their pollution, in effect act as sources of funding for clean energy projects in developing countries that would otherwise be unable to afford them. Reducing gas flaring, collecting methane emissions from landfills and energy efficiency projects are among current beneficiaries of the scheme.

If the move gets the go-ahead, said Mr Vartanian, "a new category of project will affect the fundamental supply and demand that comprises emissions trading.

"In other words, this new category of project will affect quantity of supply and price of demand and, in principle, allow the GCC to generate revenues from credits," he said.

However, it is too early for the UAE and companies such as Abu Dhabi's Masdar, which is already moving to build a carbon capture network in the emirate, to celebrate.

A press release issued by the UN described the decision on CCS as "a near agreement [...] provided [the technology] complies with stringent risk and safety assessments".

Although implemented in pilot schemes, Masdar will be one of the first projects representing a large-scale version of the technology. In addition, the move has traditionally been opposed by some countries at previous rounds of UN climate talks.

The proposal was put on hold at last year's climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was also attacked by Brazil at a preliminary round of talks in Bonn, Germany, this summer. At the Cancun summit, Brazil is hoping to negotiate funding to help protect its vast forest resources in the Amazon, which act as important sinks for carbon emissions.

The Amazon and other forests, mainly in the tropics, continue to be cut away at alarming rates. Brazil fears that if CCS receives UN credits, the international funding that it might potentially receive under a protection scheme would decrease.

CCS uses a chemical process to capture the carbon dioxide emissions released as fossil fuels are burned. Scientists say these emissions are already causing some degree of warming, and might lead to catastrophic climate changes if the world fails to tackle them in the next two decades.

Once emissions are captured, they are buried in geological formations, or ageing oil fields. Regardless of whether or not it is eligible for UN funding, Masdar, Abu Dhabi's clean energy company, is already proceeding with plans to build a 500-kilometre pipe network to move carbon dioxide captured at the Musaffah rolling mill of Emirate Steel Industries and other plants.

vtodorova@thenational.ae