Carbon Capture Use and Storage: Still Deep in Controversy

From: Vermont Law School | COP20/CMP10 Observer Delegation

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On Tuesday at the Technical Expert Meeting: Carbon Capture, Use and Storage, (CCS) a panel consisting of representatives from Parties and industry presented CCS financing, challenges, barriers, and opportunities. CCS, in brief, is a process where CO2 is captured and separated from industrial and energy-related sources and then injected deep into porous rock reservoirs. Under the UNFCCC, CCS discussions revolve the possibility of using CCS for clean development mechanism (CDM) project activities.

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Other concerns with CCS are numerous and come from a variety of sources. In 2011 submission, AOSIS expressed concerns with CCS and part of the CDM on the following issues: (1) Non-permanence, including long-term permanence; (2) Measuring, reporting and verification; (3) Environmental impacts; (4) Project activity boundaries; (5) International law; (6)Liability; (7) The potential for perverse outcomes; (8) Safety; and (9) Insurance coverage and compensation for damages caused due to seepage or leakage. Environmental groups have also been highly critical of CCS. CCS still has not been tested over time on long time-scale, meaning the technological issues (safe or not) are still largely hypothetical. There are still huge financial and regulatory hurdles. It is not always clear who will be liable if a problem occurs or how it can be remedied. At each step in the details, there are issues with CCS which have yet to be resolved. But if we zoom out, we see the big controversy with CCS: it enables the continued burning of fossil fuels. It’s not a technical problem, so it makes sense that it was not addressed in the technical meeting on Tuesday; it is an issue of principles. CCS is an attempt to make the harm less harmful, but it allows people to continue business-as-usual. To many, it sounds like the easiest option, because we don’t have to change our lifestyles or development approach. Instead, we can just put our emissions back in the ground, deep in spaces in spaces cleared from previous natural resource exploitation.

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