Science, CO2 Sequestration and Climate Negotiations

-Dr. (Ms) Malti Goel
‘One in six species on earth could be threatened with extinction from climate change unless steps are taken to reduce global warming emissions’, says a recent study report in Science magazine. Science has been at the core of climate change phenomena. Increased accumulation of greenhouse emissions from anthropogenic acuities is known to have caused global warming or a rise in global temperature. Scientific assessments are made by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a representative organization of scientists from countries. The IPCC made prediction about future climate in 1990 and the report was discussed in the Rio Earth Summit. First global treaty as United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was evoked in1992. In a series of reports brought out by IPCC since then, the fifth assessment report has been released in 2013. These scientific assessments have driven world view on global warming from being an ‘uncertainty’ to ‘certainty’.

Conference of Parties (COPs) meeting for climate negotiations are dominated by representatives of political leaders, and policy makers. IPCC assessments are interpreted in these meetings to achieve convergence on protocols and guidelines. Science becomes dormant in the deliberations except for some like Copenhagen Accord 2009, where based on scientific predictions safe limit of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere was agreed as 450 ppmv, which got translated into allowing maximum rise in global temperature up to 2°C.

Intense scientific topics like carbon sequestration have been formally cited in the UNFCCC and referred in COPs from time to time. It involves science of capturing of excess carbon dioxide and technology of fixing it away from the atmosphere to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations from the energy sector. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) is not only underground storage but also terrestrial carbon fixation and carbon utilization.  Suggested as climate mitigation option CCS is expected to make fossil fuel based electricity sustainable as clean energy. Subsidiary Body of Science & Technology Advice (SBSTA) held its first in-session workshop on CCS in 2006.  Since then CCS has been the agenda of SBSTA workshops each year. As of now CCS in geological formations projects has become eligible under the clean development mechanism (CDM). Durban COP-17 held in 2011 legitimised CCS as valid technology for both developed and developing countries and established precedence-setting regulatory framework to some extent.

International Energy Agency future outlook study has predicted that CCS may have a share of up to 17% by 2050 in reduction of emissions. According to Global CCS Institute 85 CCS demonstrations are currently in pipeline. In some cases CCS technologies are being demonstrated as promising business models. In this backdrop COPs agenda in Lima COP held in 2014 has been initiation of new large-scale operating CCS projects. UNFCCC has gone ahead and constituted a CCS Executive Board on CDM. New mechanisms to enhance learning from existing CCS projects are being considered. /Enhanced action pre-2020’ has been proposed to identify policies needed to prove possible CO2 storage sites and storage resource assessment in different countries.

What are Indian Perspectives on CCS in Paris?
What could be expected in the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP-21) to be held in Paris in December 2015. Twenty meetings have been held so far. The issue of Post Kyoto Protocol became the agenda soon after Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 and has been deliberated in each COPs. While negotiations would continue on what technology cooperation and technology development & deployment should be the target, it is aiming at achieving reduction targets for the Post Kyoto Protocol phase is the goal. As an outcome of Warsaw COP 2013 countries were urged to offer their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the Post Kyoto 2020 actions. By 1st November 2015, UNFCCC will prepare a synthesis report of Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) of all countries, to come to an assessment in COP-21.

According to UN Secretary General, India should be taking a leadership role in reaching to a meaningful pact on climate change in Paris. Looking at India’s INDCs in energy sector, it would have to consider three or four elements to be pursued beyond 2020, in its seriousness to address climate change issues.

  1. India can flag increasing use of Renewable energy and fix the target for reduction. In this context already 175 MW of renewable energy target has already been announced by the government to achieve by 2022.
  2. The second pillar is adopting energy efficiency improvement technology in various sectors of economy. India has a policy framework in terms of PAT (Perform, Achieve and Trade). It would get further boost with current focus on ‘Make in India’ campaign.
  3. The most significant for India is continuing use of fossil fuels for meeting basic energy needs of all citizens. With 69% of electricity being produced from coal at present and cost of generating power from other sources including hydro projects in difficult terrains is becoming enormous, developing capabilities in science of carbon dioxide capture and utilization is essential.

In this context taking advantage of global developments in clean coal technologies, India should capture the progress made elsewhere and continue use of coal. For example high flame temperature oxy-fuel technology is one such option that may result in significantly more efficient, economical and environmentally-compliant operations. The technology not merely suitable for high ash coal, but also save on water use and has been certified safe according to Department of Energy, USA.

India has only taken the first step to recognise the scope and has yet to put CCS on policy agenda. It is time to revisit the policy and create enabling environment for industry for technology development. A technology such as an Oxyfuel combustion power plant, either new or retrofit, in the vicinity of a coal mine could become a source of enhanced CBM by using captured carbon dioxide. The gas recovery through desorption process can be enhanced up to 20%, for coal has greater affinity for carbon dioxide as compared to Methane. At the same time other possibilities of CO2 utilization in biofuels and chemical synthesis getting matured can no longer be ignored. The CO2 sequestration is technology intensive, scientific assessments as well as a roadmap for monitoring; reporting & verification processes are needed to be established. In a two pronged approach internationally technology savvy India could appear to be ‘TECHNOLOGY POSITIVE’ in CCS negotiations rather than ‘POLICY NEUTRAL’. Internally a target to be achieved in CCS by 2050 can be easily worked out and it will in turn intensify research & innovation, for which funds created by cess on coal are to be utilized.

*Author is Former Adviser & Senior Scientist, Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India.