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Editorial comment

How serious are environmental negotiators? The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Nobuo Tanaka, earlier this year made the comment that the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) should be a “litmus test” for the seriousness of environmental negotiators dealing with the climate challenge.


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How serious are environmental negotiators? The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Nobuo Tanaka, earlier this year made the comment that the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) should be a “litmus test” for the seriousness of environmental negotiators dealing with the climate challenge. Since then, various IEA representatives have reiterated this view, going as far as suggesting that without CCS climate policy will not succeed.

G8 leaders at the recent summit in Hokkaido have given their support to the development of CCS projects: “We strongly support the launching of 20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects globally by 2010, taking into account various national circumstances, with a view to beginning broad deployment of CCS by 2020.”

CCS is an essential technology to enable society to simultaneously meet the challenges of energy access and affordability, energy security and climate change, by allowing fossil fuels to continue to meet the world’s energy needs. Yet, in the absence of policies to encourage the uptake of CCS, all we will see will be short-term switching to currently available technologies that will not provide the deep cuts in emissions required.

Governments worldwide need to match their climate rhetoric with action by investing more in CCS technology. We should be under no illusions: a low carbon energy system, regardless of the technology, is more expensive than existing energy systems. Indeed, a low carbon energy system is even more expensive if CCS is excluded. Recent IEA research has shown that a mitigation portfolio without CCS will cost an additional US$ 1.28 trillion annually in 2050. Early investment in CCS saves money over the long run and, even more importantly, it speeds up our ability to make a significant difference in climate change mitigation.

The commercial availability of CCS by 2020 will only be possible with the early deployment of multiple commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects. Public policy intervention in the form of additional financing mechanisms is required to address the higher costs associated with first-of-a-kind power plants.

A test of how serious environmental negotiators are on this issue will come later this year at the next UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland. Negotiators will decide whether CCS can be included under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This issue was first raised back in 2005 and, since this time, there have been, at times, fractious negotiations on the issue. December provides an opportunity for it to finally be resolved.

Including CCS under the CDM will enable low cost CCS opportunities in non-Annex 1 countries to be developed and will help accelerate the global deployment of this critical technology. The information is available now to permit CCS to be included under the CDM. A vast body of work has been undertaken by various Governments, intergovernmenal organisations and non-governmental organisations to address the remaining concerns.

Including CCS under the CDM will enhance this important flexible mechanism and help enable it to meet its purpose by promoting sustainable development in non-Annex 1 countries, assisting Annex 1 Parties to achieve compliance with emission reduction commitments and contributing to the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC.

Poland will certainly be a ‘litmus test’ for the seriousness of environmental negotiators.