Carbon capture and storage plant in Germany. © Vattenfall

Article by Guest Contributor: Natalie Antonowicz

During the second week of negotiations at the Cancun Conference, delegates made progress regarding the designation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects as applicable for funding under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under the CDM, developed countries may gain emissions reduction credit by undertaking environmentally sound projects in developing countries.

At Cancun, the United Nations approved CCS projects as means of carbon offsetting for firms in developed countries. A decision on integrating CCS into the CDM largely has been postponed since 2005, because the voting options regarding it have generally been phrased as ‘yes or no’ questions. At the 2010 Cancun Conference, however, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) has approved options for integrating CCS. In draft conclusions prepared by delegates, two possible options for CCS integration exist.

The first option stipulates that “CCS would be funded if concerns about carbon leakage from underground geological formations, environmental risk, legal liabilities and monitoring are addressed” by the SBSTA at its next meeting. The second option states that “CCS would be deemed ineligible for funding until and unless such issues are resolved in a satisfactory manner by Kyoto Protocol signatories”.

However, CCS remains controversial, as it does not result in an outright reduction of emissions, and instead stores carbon emitted from point sources underground or under the ocean floor. Many remain concerned that the experimental technology is not proven to be safe, and that leakages or other negative environmental ramifications are possible. Additionally, stakeholders have voiced concerns about legal liability, as it pertains to the possible negative effects of carbon capture and storage.

The major proponents of integrating CCS into the CDM are Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. These countries argue that doing so will “allow countries to keep using fossil fuel while ensuring greenhouse gases aren’t spewed into the atmosphere”. Saudi Arabia, and its OPEC allies have stated that the Cancun Conference “should not produce an accord that works against traditional energy sources”. CCS, they argue, will allow traditional energy sources to operate without sharp cost increases or efficiency decreases, while still avoiding the release of emissions. Opponents of CCS integration argue that it is “a way of effectively subsidizing the oil industry”. Instead, they favour the development of renewable energy.

The AOSIS group of South American states had been vocally opposed to CCS integration, but has backed down at Cancun. Environmental activists, however, remain opposed to CCS, as they argue that its long-term implementation timeframe is incompatible with the time-sensitive nature of environmental degradation. Despite the progress of negotiations in favour of CCS integration, opposition from Brazil and its allies has “render[ed] it ineligible for CDM funding inserted into a draft Kyoto Protocol text for 2012”.

Canada, Japan and Russia have advocated for the removal of the Clean Development Mechanism and the Joint Implementation program from the general Kyoto Protocol. These countries advocate “shift[ing] [carbon markets] intro a different track of the UN climate talks”.

Overall, progress on the Clean Development Mechanism has been made at Cancun, but controversies and debates remain. While states did agree to integrate carbon capture and storage into the mechanism, the full details of how this is to be done have not yet been decided upon. Additionally, many members of the Conference of Parties remain skeptical about the ability of carbon capture and storage technology to adequately address climate change.

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