A move to fund efforts to store carbon emissions underground, a key priority oil producers, is quietly gaining ground at the Copenhagen climate conference.
Carbon-capture plan gains ground
COPENHAGEN // A move to fund efforts to store carbon emissions underground, a key priority of the UAE and other oil producers, has quietly gained ground at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The plan is now near the top of the agenda after three years of talks, supporters say, even though an overall climate deal is still hanging in the balance before world leaders in the next three days.
"It's now the most likely time for it to be included in the last three years," said Luke Warren, the international policy executive at the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, a UK-based group that favours widespread adoption of the technology. The proposal before the climate talks would include carbon capture in a funding programme called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows owners of capture projects in developing countries to earn credits for every tonne of carbon they keep out of the atmosphere.
The Abu Dhabi Government's clean-energy firm, Masdar, is planning several carbon-capture projects and is counting on CDM funding to help defray its costs. The UAE - and oil producers in general - favours carbon capture and storage systems because they would divert fossil fuel emissions from the smokestack to permanent underground storage, mitigating the effects of continued burning of oil and natural gas. Gulf countries could experience an added bonus: carbon dioxide would most likely be buried in ageing oil wells, increasing the output of crude and displacing valuable natural gas that is currently left in the wells to maintain pressure.
The proposal appeared to hit a roadblock in a subsidiary panel last week, but is now likely to come directly to a high-level policy body made up of ministers by the end of this week, Mr Warren said. After years of debate among lower-level technical experts, "the only way it's going to be included in the CDM is if ministers make a decision on it", he said. The Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, a body that makes changes to the existing climate treaty and will influence any future agreement, had set up a contact group to solicit the opinions of ministers and is positioned to take a "yes" or "no" decision on the proposal, he said. In past years, a decision was repeatedly postponed to give experts more time to complete technical analysis.
Split by deep disagreement over the safety and effectiveness of carbon-capture projects in fighting climate change, negotiators have deferred a decision on the technology's place in the CDM for years. Brazil in particular has spoken out against the proposal, saying it would divert scarce funding from more needy projects. Masdar, which has been lobbying for funding for carbon capture, known as CCS, and dispatched high-level officials to Copenhagen, was encouraged by the developments, said Sultan al Jaber, the firm's chief executive.
The issue was moving through the UN climate-change framework, he said in an e-mail, "and we are optimistic that a positive conclusion on carbon capture in the CDM will be reached in the coming months." Until now, the bulk of CDM funding has been directed to big developing states such as China and India, for efforts to increase energy efficiency and deploy renewable energy sources. But inclusion of carbon capture in the Clean Development Mechanism would open up a number of opportunities for Gulf states, Dr al Jaber said.
"So far, the CDM has only benefited a handful of countries," he said. "Many Gulf states, including the UAE, have few CDM project opportunities and look at carbon capture as a strong technology to enhance their participation in the carbon market." A decision on the proposal was thought to be deferred after a meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice last week. The scientific panel "agreed to continue its consideration of this matter at its 32nd session" in May or June, according to a document released at the weekend. But Mr Warren said the body also opened up consideration of the proposal by the Kyoto Protocol group, a more favourable outcome in the eyes of supporters than referring it for additional technical assessment.