From December 2nd to the 15th, 2019, representatives from almost 200 nations met in Madrid, Spain to smooth out the tangled details of global climate action at the 25th UNFCCC Climate Change Conference (COP25). Negotiations ended on Sunday and there’s been a lot of media talk of whether the outcomes justified the extra time commitment—this year’s talk became the longest-running in the annual meeting’s 25-year history, ending two days late—or were impactful enough to move the dial on global greenhouse gas emissions toward net-zero by 2050.
GCCC insider and research scientist Katherine Romanak, traveled again this year to the COP to address delegates and other scientists with input into how to tackle global emissions reductions. Romanak said that “You may have heard that the negotiations went badly,” Romanak said. “It’s not all that bad, because they still have until next year to get it right. They would rather continue negotiations and get a quality agreement than agree on something that might not work as well.”
The Paris agreement has many goals. Two of the most important are to provide climate response transparency across countries and to encourage commitments to increase nationally determined contributions. The agreement calls for a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.”
GCCC research has shown that a significant sink to keep carbon dioxide (CO2)—one of the largest contributors to temperature change—away from the atmosphere is in underground rock layers, similar to the natural geological trapping of fluids and gases. The space in offshore continental margins alone could offset all of the world’s 2019 emissions.
Carbon capture and geologic storage could account for roughly 13% reduction of total emissions according to the International Energy Agency, using estimates from the IPCC’s two-degree scenario which limits average global temperature change to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—used as the benchmark for the Paris agreement.
This year’s COP was largely about refining the Paris agreement’s Article 6. Article 6 aims to support countries to meet their emissions reduction goals through voluntary international cooperation (trading carbon credits, for example).
Some COP history: COP25 prepares for COP26 when the Kyoto protocol will be replaced by the Paris agreement. Last year in Poland, parties agreed on the “Paris Rulebook” which outlined all the aspects of the Paris agreement except for Article 6 which is mostly about market mechanisms, cooperative approaches, accounting, and transparency. All paths lead to one end goal: to increase countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (the amount each country will decrease their greenhouse gas emissions). The term “increased ambition” is increasingly being used because, at this moment, the NDCs are not enough to limit warming to 2C or even to 1.5C. So countries will need to up their pledges to emissions reductions.
One big question that Romanak has for CCS and other mitigation strategies in the Paris agreement negotiations, specifically for carbon credit trading, is the issue of permanence.
“In the CCS world we are made to show permanence for thousands of years,” Romanak said. At these negotiations, there is talk about nature-based solutions like storing carbon in soils, plants, or through better land-use practices. But with climate change altering natural patterns, forest fires becoming larger and more common, and the potential for land-use practices to be abandoned over time, they remain uncertain.
Weather patterns like rainfall and moisture are anticipated to change in unpredictable ways. Deep under the Earth’s surface, unaffected by the sun’s rays and the atmosphere, carbon can be assured to be stored much longer.
Given this logic, Romanak asks, “With this discrepancy should a carbon credit gained through CCS be equal to a credit gained through agriculture?” If not done right, these rules could actually hinder the emissions reduction by not weighing the benefits of each mitigation strategy proportionally.
For COP25, Romanak again co-organized, since CCS became a recognized technology within the UNFCCC in 2011, the only official CCS side event at the COP. This year’s presentation was titled, “Carbon Removal and Return: Can CCS Decarbonize Industry in South America and Help the Oceans?”
A recording of the official side event is available (for a limited time) at: https://bit.ly/2DLVgsa
View a summary of the presentations here: enb.iisd.org/climate/cop25/side-events/4dec.html#event-4
Romanak discussed monitoring, safety, and technology transfer, addressing common questions related to each. Other panelists included Tim Dixon (IEAGHG), Carol Turley (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Jan Wilcox (Worcester Polytechnic), Andrew Jupiter (University of the West Indies), Beth Hardy (International CCS Knowledge Centre), Piera Patrizio (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), and Keith Whiriskey (Bellona). Topics included: the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere, direct air capture with CCS, developing a national program in Trinidad and Tobago, decarbonizing cement, BECCS sustainable jobs, and low-carbon infrastructure. The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) also helped support the event.
Romanak also presented in a CO2 Capture Project event (BP, Chevron, Petrobras) focused around CO2 storage regulations. Her talk was on monitoring for demonstrating CO2 storage permanence. As well as at the Japanese event “Saving Our Beautiful Planet with CCS (Part 2)”, which was organized by Japan CCS Co, METI and NEDO in the Japan Pavilion. Yoshihiro Sawada gave a great presentation showing why nearby earthquakes near a CO2 injection site in Tomakomai were not caused by the injection nor did they disturb the injection.
Some new reports were released with fanfare:
- Julio Friedman launched his latest roadmap on “Low-Carbon Heat Solutions for Heavy Industry: Sources, Options, And Costs Today”.
- The Global CCS Institute’s Global Status Report is now out. It shows that there are indeed more CCS projects in the pipeline which is encouraging but not enough.
And some new projects were revealed:
- Occidental is planning a large-scale direct air capture (DAC) facility in Texas by 2023 that will capture 1 MMT per year. Their plan is then to have 11 more of these in the construction phase by 2024 in order to gain 45Q credits. They plan to use Carbon Engineering’s potassium hydroxide-based technology. Presenters suggested that DAC can de-risk a project because it can be moved and adapted to new facilities as others age. This flexibility of DAC lowers investment risk.
- The Western States Petroleum Association will soon publish an atlas on storage capacity in California with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Supposedly in order to meet their net-zero target, California will need to store 100 MMT per year through CCS.
GCCC hopes to play a part in these projects in some way. GCCC, and Romanak particularly, is committed to assist scientists and leaders in Trinidad and Tobago to develop an atlas of carbon storage opportunities in the nation as well as capacity building if funded through one of the international development banks currently supporting low-carbon development.
And like all good conferences, Romanak said she came out a changed person. She was lucky enough to sit two rows behind Greta Thunberg as she gave her plenary talk. You can watch the plenary here.
The global climate talks will resume next year in Glasgow, Scotland. GCCC researcher Katherine Romanak expects to be there to again provide her technical expertise to push the US and developing countries forward in their action to meet climate commitments with CCS. GCCC has one big piece of the puzzle. Negotiators, policymakers, and business leaders will need to act fast.
Contact Katherine Romanak for more information on assisting international and developing countries to develop and meet their emissions targets using CCS. Read a press release about GCCC’s partnership with Trinidad and Tobago.