10.03.2016

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False Solutions: Pitfalls of Emissions Trading / Risks of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Geo-Engineering

The emission trading scheme has failed as an instrument to curb global warming. The reason for the failure is that there has never been a global cap on carbon emissions. In the end loopholes have caused stagnating or even rising emissions, says Alice Bows-Larkin. Additionally problematic mega-dams have been pushed as green projects. To include forests and soils in the emission trading like it is done with the program REED+ in the Paris agreement would follow a “perverse logic”, says former chief climate negotiator of Bolivia Pablo Solón. Only those who reduce deforestation get carbon credits as a kind of reward. Troubling is also that scientists and politicians rely on carbon capture and storage and geo-engeneering to reduce our emissions in the future. Instead of following these kind of dangerous solutions politics should rather stop the pollution by reducing the extraction of oil, gas and coal in the first place.

Gäste: 
Lyda Fernanda Forero, Transnational Institute, Amsterdam / Columbia
Pablo Solón, former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia
Alice Bows-Larkin, climate scientist, Tyndall Centre (UK)
Janet Redman, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington D.C.
Kevin Anderson, climate scientist, co-dIrector Tyndall Centre
Transkript: 

Fabian Scheidler: The criticism against the results of the UN negotiations does not only target the insufficient reduction goals of the developed countries but also the mechanisms with which these goals should be achieved. Especially the emission trading schemes and risk technologies as geo-engineering and carbon capture and storage face heavy criticism.

Lyda Fernanda Forero: They are using a fake argument. It's to sell the right to pollute. And instead of that we should say: No pollution. So, by creating these we say: Yes, ok, it's fine if you pollute as long as you pay. And that is really complicated and is taking out of the discussion the real problem, which are these emissions.

Pablo Solón: I think we have to identify on one side the big corporations, fossil fuel corporations, oil carbon, coal and gas corporations that of course want to preserve their profits. And are doing everything to prevent an agreement that establishes a limit to fossil fuel extraction because what we have is an agreement that speaks about emission reduction but doesn’t limit fossil fuel extraction. How are you going to limit emissions if you don’t limit extraction of fossil fuels? But that’s the kind of agreement that we are having and that is because of the great pressure and power of these corporations that not only have captured the process here in the UN but also have captured governments as such.

Lyda Fernanda Forero: The UNFCCC created through these a commodity. Then they are saying: The industries don't need to stop producing and emitting. But they can just buy this commodity somewhere else. That "somewhere else" is usually in the south, in those countries where you don't have those amounts of emissions. Or in the European context: in the Eastern European countries. But if we look at the products in the south, for example, they can create some projects that are supposed to save or to reduce the emissions. But they are not doing so. And on the other hand, they are causing even more problems. One example is the mega dams. Mega dams are supposed to be a source of renewable energy and reduce emissions. It's not proved that they do so. And on top of that, to build mega dams many communities have been displaced; their territories have been destroyed, polluted; rivers have been derailed. And the natural system and the community system, the social and ecological environments have been destroyed. So, first you are not reducing emissions; second you are affecting people.

Alice Bows-Larkin: Trading schemes need to be matched with a tight cap that is connected with 2°. And to avoid issues of leakage. And I think the problem that we have with a system like the EU's emission trading scheme is that there are opportunities for carbon leakage. And we haven't had a cap that has been in line with the 2° target.

David Goessmann: - What is carbon leakage? -

Alice Bows-Larkin: So, carbon leakage is when you make an emission ... well, you pay for an emissions saving somewhere else. And it might be that that immediate effect is that there's an industry that cuts its emissions. But it may be, that by doing so, it actually improves the income for that particular industry so it can develop in a cleaner way. Which is a positive thing. But it could--

David Goessmann: - So is this offsetting? -

Alice Bows-Larkin: So this is essentially offsetting. And then, if this company or-- this helps to make a positive economic contribution in a country, then that country's economy may further grow. And if that country's economy is still having a fossil fuel energy system, then you might ultimately be increasing the CO2 emissions. So, carbon leakage is essentially where the intention is to actually reduce emissions when actually you find that perhaps emission do not reduce; or actually, a worse case scenario is that they actually increase. So if we had a tight and fix global carbon cap then in theory you wouldn't have this issue. But when you have a trading scheme that's operating in one place and not in another and is able to trade with places that do not have a carbon cap, then there's a potential of this carbon leakage, which is problematic.

Pablo Solón: Here in the Paris agreement, there is going to be an explicit motion to Red Plus, which is a new Carbon Market mechanism--

David Goessmann: - What is Red Plus? -

Pablo Solón: --that we have never seen before. There are some pilot projects, but ... What does it mean: Red means reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests. This time, the logic is very perverted. So, if you are deforesting 200'000 hectares per year, and you are going to deforest next year only 150'000 hectares, for the 50'000 that you're going to reduce, you can bring into the market carbon credits. So I will bring carbon credits for what? For the damage that I'm going to reduce. Why do I say that it's very perverted: What happens with a place or a community that is not deforesting at all? So they don't have deforestation to reduce, so they are not going to bring at all any kind of carbon credits into the market. Now, once you bring these carbon credits into the market they are being bought by: it can be industries in urban areas or in other countries. Let's say: Ok, we are buying this; that is helping someone in the Amazons to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions; therefore I can continue to pollute. So this is very bad! But in the Paris agreement they opened the door for even more carbon markets.
 (...) if you have too many carbon markets what is going to happen with carbon credits? They are going to have always a lower price so that whoever wants to buy them in order to say that he’s fulfilling his commitments can buy them at a cheaper price. So this is a very speculative mechanism that has failed in the past and that should not be promoted. But even though, they’re thinking to make a business out of this.

Janet Redman: Carbon Capture and Storage means: we keep on burning coal; we keep on burning oil; we just capture that pollution and pump it back into the ground. And hope it stays there. Actually sometimes people are using that to actually help us put more oil out of the ground. So it's a clever idea if you're a fossil fuel company. But its not so great if you're worried about global warming, unfortunately.

Pablo Solón: In the agreement itself, it doesn't speak about Carbon Capture and Storage or geo-engineering. But if you hear the comments of some of the delegations, of some of the research institutes that are linked to governments, they are saying: Ok, if we want to have a world of 2 °C, now the only way to do it – because emission cuts are so low – is though geo-engineering. So now, there is no other way to do it through Carbon Capture and Storage or bio-energy. So what we are seeing is that by not making deep emission cuts they are creating all the conditions so that in the coming years the population has to say: Hey, what other option do we have? We didn't do it on time, now the only option is to do it through this geo-engineering.

Janet Redman: So to look at where Carbon Capture and Storage shows up you have to look at a couple of places in the climate negotiations here; terms that look pretty good, like net zero emissions. "Net zero" ... ok, wait a minute. That doesn't mean zero emissions, that means when we talk about how much we burn, then we talk about how much we capture. Then we can see if our carbon equals zero. So that's a real problem, you can see the trade-off there that's not reasonable. Then you can also look back at some of what our governments are saying. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have talked a lot about how amazing it was that China and the US have talked before they came here. They've announced these joint agreements on climate action. But if you look at the agenda of that, one of the most, I think, worrying pieces of that agenda is a joint agreement to do research and development in technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage. Even though scientists have told us for quite a long time: "It's not necessarily feasible at scale, even if it happens in some countries that have perfected it like Norway". It's incredibly hard to think about how we would do that in countries like the US, kind of anywhere that needs that kind of infrastructure. And then the investment community has said: "Uhm, it's so expensive ... it's not really financially viable". So both technically and financially it's a terrible idea. The real question is: Why are countries spending so much energy and time trying to continue on a fossil fuel path, when it's already a doomed idea. Let's take all that energy, all that financing, all that money, political will and move it towards the renewable energy economy. It's already there; the technologies exist. We can make them better. It just defies logic. And I think what's behind that is really the fossil fuel industries saying: "We don't want to go. We don't want to move. We have all this infrastructure we've already invested in and we want to hold on to this as tight as we can".

Kevin Anderson: The most important criteria, that is making a difference between some people's numbers like ... some numbers are coming out of PIK and some numbers that we're using, or the Global Carbon Project are using, is the assumption that sometimes in the future, usually after 2050, we will suck, we will absorb huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with some technology. A highly speculative technology that we're not sure exactly what that would look like, in 2050 to 2070, will absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide off the atmosphere. And some people are relying on that; are sure that that will work. If you do that, then you can actually effectively increase the size of the carbon budget. You do not have to have as much of a significant change in the short to near term. If you assume that these technologies are highly speculative – they may not work – and I think if you have any reasonable level of prudence, of caution, you would say: well, let's hope they work, but they probably won't. Let's assume they will not work. And if you take that assumption, which is what we have done, and what the Global Carbon Project has done, then you will end up with the sort of reductions that we are talking about: an 80% or so change by 2030. And I think there's a temptation to say, that you'd assume that these technologies will work. Because that then allows us to fit within the current political and economic framing of contemporary society. If you assume that they don't work, then the reduction rates as such are so rapid, then that begs quite important questions about "how we live our lives". And the levels of emission that we have; the levels of consumption we have; the types of activities that we pursue. So one of them has much more political repercussions than the other. We can see certainly a tendency – a temptation – to move towards the assumption that you don't have to have these big political repercussions.

Janet Redman: I mean there's the immediate reality of people who would live around these geologic formations that would burst. You know, we don't breath carbon dioxide. That would be a real problem, if all of a sudden a plume of carbon dioxide sits over a community, let's say. But then the long-term effect of course is that the carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere, where the lag time is generations. And so, just imagine a plume of pollution that was released that then we would have to say: Oh my gosh, how do we get that back now? We don't. That's the problem. So let's not produce it in the first place. Let's do what we know we need to do and move away from these fossil fuel technologies. And I think we have to think about another side of that problem: it's not just burning the coal, bring the oil and worrying about the greenhouse gas pollution. There's also the pollution when we take that stuff out of the ground. There’s the pollution, other kinds of pollution, that aren't greenhouse gases. Where people have to live around those facilities (?). And then there's the pollution of the waste material from that. We're dealing right now with: gosh, what do we do with coal ash? It's toxic; it's radioactive. We're thinking about mixing it into new cement to make housing. That's ridiculous, who'd want to live in that kind of housing?! Let's just stop kidding ourselves and move away from that kind of economy.

Pablo Solón: Geo-engineering has not to do... it's not only like GMO, to do an experiment with seed, with a plant, in a particular area. Geo-engineering is engineering with the earth. The projects that are there, is: Hey, let's create artificial volcanoes that will create smog around the earth and therefore the sun rays will reach less the surface of the earth and that will cool the planet. It's a way to address one kind of pollution with another kind of pollution. Or the proposals are to seed the ocean with iron(?). Because then oceans can capture more CO2. But this will have a very big impact on coral reefs and on fishes. So, these alternatives are very dangerous. And without being mentioned really in the agreement, they are putting the world in a situation where we are going to say: Ok, there is no other way but to accept this experiment. But if they fail, in this case, you don't have a planet B to say: Ok, now let's try it again. This time it will work. That is why we are very much in opposition of this. We clearly say that after COP21 in Paris we're going to see more carbon markets on one side, but also more techno-fix proposals on geo-engineering on the other side.

Kevin Anderson: There's also quite naive assumptions by some scientists who think that you can engineer your way out of the problem using current sets of technologies. And they assume that they will be put in place very rapidly and I have to say, that I think, that some of--

David Goessmann: - Can you give an example? -

Kevin Anderson: Well, an example would be nuclear power. I mean, I'm agnostic about nuclear power, I think Alas(?) might have a similar view and it's certainly very low carbon. But the idea that you can build your way out of this problem with energy supply – (?) offshore wind turbines or whatever it might be – that you can somehow construct that system so rapidly, that you can still stay in the carbon budget, I think, is very misleading. And you came to hear that(?), as well as the negative emissions, you hear a lot of scientists. And James Hanson, and quite a lot of others, are saying that nuclear is definitely the way forward. Now it certainly is low carbon; and it certainly could well have a part to play. But I think it's being hugely overestimated how rapidly you could build these nuclear power stations. We do not have the capacity to build them; we do not have the expertise, the engineering expertise, to build the sorts of numbers that you'd be to acquire. We are currently building seventy around the globe, you might need 2000 in the next twenty or thirty years, to make a reasonable dent in our carbon emissions. But that's not just for nuclear power, it's also a lot of time that some of the NGOs that make very naive assumptions about renewable energy as well. But a point Alas made earlier(?), it's not just about electricity. At the moment, only 20% of the energy we consume is typically electricity. 80% is oil, gas and coal for our heating, for our transport networks, for our industry and so forth, for our aviation, for our ships. All of that would need to be made low-carbon. That means you'd have to electrify a lot of that part of the energy system. That will take a long time. To increase the size of our current grid, our infrastructure providing electricity, to all of these other sectors, let's say to increase it by a factor of 3 or 4 – will not be achieved in a decade, (but) will probably take two or three decades. Even if we had a very strong plan for delivering that; as well as a move towards very low-carbon electricity. Which is why we come back to Alas's point, that demand is really important. If we can reduce the demand in the short term, we reduce our emissions. And that then extends the window of opportunity for building these technologies. So it's not just about naive technologies in 2050 solving the problem with negative emissions; it's also about quite naive assumptions about how fast you could actually build low-carbon energy supply. And transition our current infrastructure to one that is low-carbon. Which we think, we should be pushing very hard for. When you play out those numbers in a realistic sense, you cannot do it in line with 2 °C carbon budgets.