Author: Natalie Antonowicz

CCS Plant in Germany (Image by: Vattenfall)

CCS Plant in Germany (Image by: Vattenfall)

Saudi Arabia, and other oil exporters such as Norway have been negotiating for the inclusion of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a means by which developed countries can offset their emissions through the Clean Development Mechanism.

Carbon capture and storage refers to the method by which carbon emissions are collected at the point of emission – or ‘at the pipe’ – and sequestered underground or in the seabed. CCS may be used for industrial processes such as power generation and the extraction and refinement of fossil fuels. This is not a means of reducing the total amount of emissions generated, but a means of preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Norway’s Deputy Oil Minister Liv Monica Stubholt has been urging states to support her country, Saudi Arabia, and OPEC in pressing for CCS to be included in the CDM. The International Emissions Trading Association supports the states, and feels that CCS’ exclusion from the CDM is the result of “seemingly subjective and politicised reasons, rather than those drawn from any objective analysis”.

Despite the efforts of Norway and Saudi Arabia, it is almost impossible that the Copenhagen Conference will result in an amendment to the CDM which would allow CCS projects to qualify for emissions reduction under the mechanism.

During the Copenhagen Conference, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advances (SBSTA), which is one of two permanent bodies to the Conference of Parties (COP) formally pushed its decision regarding whether CCS will be incorporated into the CDM until either the 2010 conference in Mexico, or the 2011 conference in South Africa.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advances is not seriously considering Saudi Arabia and Norway’s proposals due to concern registered by other states and stakeholders. The body’s  recent report cites concerns about “the long-term liability for the storage site, including liability for any seepage”.

Although incorporating CCS into the CDM was among the major negotiating goals of Middle Eastern and North Sea states, the SBSTA’s deferral of the issue suggests that it is not under serious consideration by the major organs of the COP. Additionally, the issue has been proposed at previous Conferences, such as COP14 in Poznan, Poland, where it was not considered by the Body.

Debate among environmentalists about CCS also hinders the chances of success for Saudi Arabia and Norway’s proposal. Many stakeholders argue that it is less expensive to develop renewable energy technologies than it is to develop CCS technologies. Additionally, CCS has not yet been deployed on a commercial scale, and remains a largely experimental technology.

Opposition to the inclusion of CCS into the CDM by states such as Brazil have not wavered during last week’s negotiations. Brazil has argued that delegating funding to CCS projects may reduce available monies for that state’s efforts at renewable energy deployment and forest protection. Brazil’s rainforests serve as a major carbon sink for the world’s emissions.

Ultimately, despite its rejection as an instrument of the Clean Development Mechanism, carbon capture and storage is gaining global popularity. The European Union plans to invest EUR 1 billion into six demonstration projects, and the United States Department of Energy has pledged almost USD 1 billion for three demonstration projects. Private firms have also been investing in CCS. This indicates that as more stakeholders become involved in the issue, the incorporation of CCS into the CDM may indeed be strongly considered at future COPs, however, it is virtually impossible that Saudi Arabia and Norway’s efforts will lead to any serious consideration of the issue at COP15, due to opposition by states and civil society, and a lack of consideration by international bodies. According to Mari Luomi of the Finish Institute of International Affairs, the proposal “is not likely to move anywhere” at COP15.

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