Paris in overtime with aim of hitting a 1.5C rise – is CCS back on the table?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. (Photo: Arnaud Boissou/Cop21)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. (Photo: Arnaud Boissou/Cop21)

Publish date: December 11, 2015

PARIS – After working through the night here to wrap up a global deal that has been years in the making, diplomats have postponed the end of the most high-stakes UN climate summit in memory until Saturday, its French hosts said.

PARIS – After working through the night here to wrap up a global deal that has been years in the making, diplomats have postponed the end of the most high-stakes UN climate summit in memory until Saturday, its French hosts said.

New goals spelled out among the 190 plus nation meeting here are pushing for an agreement that will limit global temperature rise to 2C above preindustrial levels – with the ultimate goal being to hold that rise beneath 1.5C.

But diplomats have also said the stickiest points of all remain some of the oldest in the UN climate process: how, or whether, nations will share the cost of fighting climate change; which countries are considered rich and poor, and whether the world should shift entirely to renewable energy.

“I will not present the text Friday evening, as I had thought, but Saturday morning,” Fabius said on French television. “There is still work to do […] Things are going in the right direction.”

Fabius said he wanted to consult with various negotiating blocs so that “this is really a text … that comes from everyone.”

“This represents all of the countries in the world and it’s completely normal to take a bit of time, so we will shift it,” he said.

cop21 le bourget Diplomats watching negotiations on screens at the Le Bourget center. (Photo: Arnaud Boissou/Cop21)

The new deal is meant to pick up where the hobbled 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen left off by achieving a new global agreement aimed at long term strategies for emissions cuts, as well as dealing with consequences of climate change that are already evident.

Bellona President Frederic Hauge – a veteran of the UN climate process – said the extra time isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“In fact, there’s a much bigger sense of urgency than I’ve seen at any climate summit ever before,” said Hauge.

“The draft texts emerging today show we are much better off than we were in Copenhagen at this point,” he said here in Paris. He was further encouraged by the texts’ explicit references to a 2C maximum temperature rise, and setting the brass ring at 1.5C.

Hitting the low end of the thermometer requires CCS

Such drastic reductions when emissions cuts proposals currently on the table would still mean as much as a 3.7C global temperature hike means, he said, that carbon capture and storage, or CCS, by inference, is still on the table.

Such deep decarbonizing technologies have failed to gain momentum in the high-level talks this week discouraging proponents of carbon capture methods.

Noah Deich, executive director of the Berkeley, California-based Center for Carbon Removal, said the cold shoulder to CCS by the broader environmental community here in Paris resulted from the technology’s close associations with the oil industry.

“Captured carbon is great for pumping down oil wells to make oil recovery more efficient,” he told Bellona on Thursday. “So, many see carbon capture and storage as aiding and abetting the petroleum industry, which is largely responsible for global warming in the first place.”

But without CCS, Hauge said, citing the International Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, limiting global temperature rises to 2C, to say nothing of 1.5C, would be impossible.

saskpower-jonas The world's first industrial scale CCS coal burinig unit at SaskPower's Boundary Dam Plant. (Photo: Jonas Helseth/Bellona)

Deich contended that, despite IPCC suggestions, a 100 percent switch to renewable energy by 2050 is feasible, given the money and political will are there.

“Many in the environmental movement would prefer to go in that direction, rather than rely on the help of the oil industry to store carbon essentially for their own commercial benefit,” said Deich.

Hauge said “we back every kind of renewable energy there is” adding, “I really hope all of these other areas grow quickly enough so CCS is not needed in huge proportions – but it cannot be ruled out.”

Thursday’s new draft

Jonas Helseth, director of Bellona Europa said French officials were exercising more authority than he’d seen at previous climate negotiations to keep negotiations from meandering.

The first viable draft text presented by the French presidency of the summit was pushed out Thursday night and weighed in at 29 pages – down from last week’s text of 90 pages. By early Friday, that had been trimmed to 26 pages. Later in the morning, it had reached 23 pages with the goal being 19 pages by tomorrow.

Developing countries seem to be fairing well in the drafts. The highly ambitious 1.5C temperature rise target was included at the urging of small island nations who say a 2C rise will drown them.

The draft text also admits, as Hauge pointed out, that the combined promises by nations to curb emissions are not nearly enough to meet the 2C and 1.5 C targets. It says governments themselves will have to be more ambitious in their greenhouse gas slashing programs.

Yet, some nations remain despondent over the text, and much more compromise and overnight tinkering into Saturday will be required to close the historic deal.

Indeed, diplomats as of mid afternoon Friday were hitting some familiar walls, like issues of including climate finance and how to decide which countries are rich and which are poor.

Called “differentiation,” richer nations want emerging economies to take on more of the burden of cutting emissions and providing finance to the very poor nations hit by the impacts of rising temperatures.

The richer countries were also insisting on a single system of verification of promises for all countries.

“We feel that when parties have committed themselves to a national target that reflects their ambitions and abilities, they must be ready to tell the global community what type of progress is being made,” said Elina Bardram, the EU’s chief negotiator told reporters.

“We need to have accounting standards and principles that are common to all – otherwise you are simply comparing apples with pears.”

According to Hauge, these verification processes would run over five-year periods, a time frame he would prefer to see shortened to three years.