London Protocol approves CO2 storage

frontpageingressimage_ukflagFNT.jpeg Photo: Bellona Archive

The Bellona Foundation, a staunch proponent of CSS technology, welcomed the news.

The amendment to the London Protocol, a process that has been in the making since April 2006, came a week after the release of the so-called Stern Report issued by the British government on October 30th – a report that shook the industrialised world.

Authored by Sir Nicholas Stern, the World Bank’s former chief economist, the report’s main premise was that scientific evidence attesting to global climate change is overwhelming, and that its continued impact – if allowed to progress unchecked – would be as economically devastating as either of the 20th century’s world wars.

The Stern report’s uniqueness – which drew commentary even from such governments as the United States, which has historically relied on its own internal reports denying climate change – is that it focused on the economics of environmental catastrophe, thus hitting sceptical governments in their pocketbooks and waking them up.

Stern said that his work preparing the report led him “to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting."

After estimating that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be brought down "to more than 80 percent below current levels," the Stern report maintains that CCS technology “will be necessary” and has its place in a range of actions to be implemented if the goal is to be achieved.

CCS to mitigate climate change
Climate change is now, as such, an accepted fact. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports it: sea levels are rising, oceans are acidifying and temperatures continue to rise. If industrialised nations do not succeed in keeping the average global temperature increase below 2oC (relative to pre-industrial levels), the consequences – even as early as 2050 – could be grave.

These consequences include melting polar ice caps, an increased frequency of extreme climate events, permanent flooding of coastal cities, disruption of ecosystems and extinction of species. Every region in the world will be affected, including Europe. The solution among world experts and the environmental movement is unanimous: reduce GHG emissions – especially CO2, the most important GHG – by at least 60 percent by 2050, compared to today’s levels.

The largest source of man-made CO2 emissions is fossil fuel combustion for power production. Yet, fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are the most important energy source today, and will continue to be important energy sources for at least the next 50 years. Indeed, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 80 percent of today’s the global energy demand is based on fossil fuels.

Where CCS comes in

CCS is a technology with the potential to reduce GHG emissions while allowing fossil fuel use. With CCS, the CO2 arising from combustion of fossil fuel is captured, transported, and finally safely stored in an underground geological formation.

Increasing energy efficiency and energy production from renewable sources have the potential to reduce GHG emissions in the long-term. However, implementing energy efficiency measures and adapting an energy source switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy at a realistic pace will not be sufficient to meet the required reduction in CO2 emissions required over the next half century.

Emissions must be cut rapidly, and, therefore, CCS is a bridge to a future society where energy production will be based on renewable energy. As such, CCS has the potential to avoid dramatic climate changes and sustain quality of life while maintaining secure power generation for the coming decades.

Legislative barriers to implementing CCS
There is currently no legal instrument that directly regulates CO2 sub-ocean storage. The legality of CO2 storage depends instead on a patchwork of global and regional legislation that seeks to protect the marine environment, conserve marine biodiversity, and prevent pollution.

The 1996 London Protocol – a modernized version of the international 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter – has long been a major hurdle to the implementation of CCS.

The changes to the London Protocol will in turn most likely lead to a revision of the OSPAR Convention, the North-East Atlantic’s equivalent of the London Protocol, which combines the 1972 Oslo Convention on dumping waste at sea and the 1974 Paris Convention on land-based sources of marine pollution.