11 December 2008

UN Envoys Drop Plan to Back Carbon-Capture Projects

By Todd White and Alex Morales, Bloomberg, Dec 10, 2008

United Nations negotiators dropped plans to back the use of devices that capture carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants in developing countries and pump it underground for storage.

Members of the UN Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice couldn’t agree to support the experimental technology for curbing greenhouse gases, according to a document given today to delegates meeting in Poland for climate talks.

Negotiators are debating proposals to foster power generation without releasing carbon dioxide, the main man-made gas blamed for global warming. More than 10,000 envoys, scientists and environmental advocates are gathered in the western Polish city of Poznan to help government envoys lay the groundwork for a new treaty to stem climate change that’s due to be signed in a year.

The International Energy Agency this week called for 20 carbon-capture projects to be built. The technology to store industrial CO2 underground indefinitely is vital to the UN’s plan to halve worldwide emissions of global-warming gases by 2050, the IEA has said. The devices primarily aim to remove almost all CO2 emissions from burning coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UN scientific team of negotiators had discussed adding “clean-coal” technology to a list of UN-approved methods to limit the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Delegates in Poland also have considered adding nuclear power to that list.

Discarded Proposals

The two discarded proposals would have let industrialized nations or companies earn credits for reducing their emissions if they paid for carbon-capture plants in developing nations. UN rules allow pollution-offset investments in projects such as trapping methane gas from landfills or building wind-energy turbines in developing nations under a system called the clean development mechanism, or CDM.

If approved, a carbon-capture plan could have taken effect before the new treaty in Copenhagen is signed next year. Carbon capture, or CCS, will be discussed when ministers gather tomorrow and Dec. 12 in Poznan, joining lower-level delegates, conference spokesman John Hay said. The issue may also be taken up in March at a meeting in Bonn, Germany, Norway’s delegation chief said.

Carbon capture “can still be included in the CDM before 2012 but it’s now even more difficult than we had expected and we regret that,” Norway delegation chief Hanne Inger Bjurstrom said today in an interview.

’Economic Incentive?’

After 2012, when targets set by the existing global warming treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, expire, the technology must be approved for use in “some sort of economic incentive system” though not necessarily the CDM, she said.

One option discarded this week would have allowed unlimited use of the technology. Another would have held to eight the number of carbon-capture projects approved under CDM by 2012. The European Union had proposed a compromise, saying a test project should be conducted before further plants are built. Environmental groups including WWF International and Greenpeace said carbon capture shouldn’t be included in the CDM.

Carbon capture “is not an appropriate technology for the CDM,” Greenpeace climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said. “It hasn’t been proven, which would mean using developing countries as a testing ground -- a sort of laboratory -- to see if it works.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in Poznan, Poland, via amorales2@bloomberg.netTodd White in Poznan via twhite@bloomberg.net

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