A new key to a new climate deal

frontpageingressimage_frontpageingressimage_Frederic_EUside_event-1..jpg Photo: Anne Karin Saether

The UN climate change summit in Bali is laying the foundation for a new global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2012. The size of the task is well known. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50 to 85 percent by 2050 if we are to have a reasonable chance of preventing run-away global warming.

World leaders now have a new key to a new climate deal – a weapon that was not yet tested when the world was negotiating today’s climate deal in Kyoto in the mid 1990s. Now we have the technology to produce energy from fossil fuels, while capturing the CO2 otherwise emitted into the air and storing it safely underground. It is called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it can be vital in reaching a new international climate deal.

The Bellona Foundation has recently published an article in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, which estimates that CCS alone could reduce global annual CO2 emissions in 2050 by 33 percent compared to emissions in 2007. Sir Nicholas Stern, known for his technology-neutral approach, has also embraced the opportunities CCS represents.

To reduce CO2 emissions in the necessary degree is impossible without CCS. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that even if policies currently being considered to increase renewable energy generation and energy efficiency are implemented, there will still be a 20 percent increase in CO2 emissions by 2030. In other words, energy efficiency and renewable energy will not cut emissions rapidly enough.

This makes CCS an essential bridge between today’s energy system, 80 percent of which is made up by fossil fuels, and the long-term goal of relying solely on renewable energy sources.

Since 1996 one million tons of CO2 have been stored annually under the North Sea, in the underground geological formation called Utsira. The stored CO2 has been monitored thoroughly and no leakages have occurred. Other CCS projects are functioning in Algeria and Canada, for example. Huge storage capacity exists worldwide, and the technology for finding the best places for storage also exists.

Several full-scale CCS power plants are now being planned worldwide. In Europe plans are being devised to have 10 to 12 major full scale CCS demonstration plants in operation by 2015. In China, the GreenGen project is aiming for clean coal in 2015. In the US, the FutureGen project, an initiative to build the world’s first integrated sequestration and hydrogen production power plant, is due for completion in 2013. Several other interesting projects have been announced in Australia, Canada and Norway.

We already know that the CCS technology works, but to create the economic conditions for making CCS commercially viable is still a challenge – and a question of political will. In whatever way, world leaders will need to implement CCS, whatever the cost, as it is of crucial importance for our climate.

Developed countries should not only establish full-scale demonstration plants domestically. They must in parallel finance CCS plants in poorer countries. The volume of historical emissions of rich countries means that time is of the essence. Developing countries should not bear the bill for that.

Climbing out of poverty will require higher energy consumption in most of today’s emerging economies. Poorer countries have until recently contributed very little to greenhouse gas emissions, and their claim for more energy is only legitimate and fair. Coal is the only available and abundant energy resource for many of these countries, like China and India. Once deployed, CCS has the unique advantage of allowing these countries to continue to grow economically but without propelling climate change.

Preventing irreversible climate change on our planet will require unprecedented joint global efforts in any case. There are no magic solutions. Yet CCS can pave the way for a new ambitious, realistic and fair agreement for both rich and poor countries. Let us hear that here in Bali.

Frederic Hauge is the President of the Bellona Foundation and Vice Chairman of the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants. He is currently attending the climate change summit in Bali.