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COP 20: Reality and Distortions in Lima

Wandering the COP20 campus, listening to side events and hearing senior political, business and NGO representatives talk about the climate issue results in a mild reality distortion field impairing your judgement; you start to feel sure that we must already be on a new energy pathway, that global carbon pricing is just around the corner and that the Paris deal will deliver something approaching 2°C.

Then something happens to shatter that field and realisation sets in that there is still a long way to go before a truly robust approach to the climate issue emerges. On Tuesday evening the field was disturbed by tweets from a colleague at PWC @JG_climate reporting on negotiators squabbling over INDCs, with Brazil’s concentric differentiation approach causing some angst amongst a number of developed countries and the proposed text describing the nature of an INDC expanding by some thirty pages. This negotiation is far from over and the road ahead to Paris will likely be very bumpy. There will be a few dead-ends to watch out for as well.

Another reality hit home on Monday afternoon with the recognition that many people in the civil society groups here in Lima just don’t want to hear about the reality of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI) held an excellent and well attended side event on Monday afternoon which was initially mobbed by some 100+ demonstrators and their press entourage. The demonstrators crowded into the modest sized room and the hallway outside, waited for the start of the event and then promptly left as Lord Stern opened the side event with his remarks on the need for a massive scale-up of CCS. Arriving and then departing en masse allowed them to tweet that civil society had walked out on Lord Stern. The demonstrators were equally upset that Shell was represented at the event with my presentation on yet another sobering reality; 2°C is most likely out of reach without the application of CCS; also a finding of the IPCC in their 5th Assessment Report. They also took exception to flyers for my book which carries the same message.

CCS Event (small)

What was really concerning about this walk-out was that the younger people who made up the group would rather protest than listen and learn. Had they stayed they would have heard a remarkable story by Mike Monea of SaskPower who talked about the very successful start-up of the world’s first commercial scale coal fired power plant operating with carbon capture, use (for EOR) and storage. This technology needs some form of carbon pricing structure for delivery and in the case of this project the bulk of it came from the sale of CO2 for EOR. There was also a capital grant from the government. Importantly, SaskPower noted that a future plant would be both cheaper to build (by some 30%) and less costly to operate. This potentially points the way to a technology that can deliver very low emission base load electricity at considerably lower CO2 prices than the ~$100+ per tonne of CO2 that current desktop studies point to. That may also mean CCS appearing without government support sooner rather than later. Of course, the actual construction and delivery of second generation projects will still be required to confirm this.

A minor reality distortion arose from a question directed at me during the GCCSI side event. One audience member asked me about Shell’s membership of ALEC, a US organisation that operates a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.  ALEC doesn’t seem to think that a carbon price should be implemented in the USA, hence the question to me given Shell support for carbon pricing.  Responding to the Climate correctly reported on my response, which was along the lines of “. . that despite their position  on climate issues we still placed a value on their ability to convene state legislators”, but DeSmogBlog had their own interpretation of this. They reported on this under a headline which stated “Company ‘Values’ Relationship with Climate-Denying ALEC”.

It’s also proving a challenge to gain acceptance for the reality of markets and the role they are likely to have in disseminating a carbon price throughout the energy system. This means that carbon market thinking is still struggling to gain a foothold in text proposals for Paris, with one negotiator commenting at an event I attended that “we don’t see much call for markets at this time“. Silence on markets is the preferred strategy for some Parties, with others taking the view that specific mention and some direction is a must. More on this at another time as the Paris text develops further.

The evenings in Lima have been filled with some excellent events. With so many people in town, dinner discussions are convened by the major organisations represented here, which results in great conversations, useful contacts and plenty of new ideas to think about. The Government of Peru have organised and run a very good COP, despite early concerns that there were initially no buildings on the site they chose for the event.

David Hone's picture

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Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Dec 11, 2014 2:17 pm GMT

The necessity of CCS today is caused by the refusal to employ nuclear power yesterday. The  protesting group (astroturf? created by whom?) which attempted to sabotage the talk on CCS is likely the same people who fought – and still fight – nuclear power. It is ironic and tragic that while these people appear to believe that they are the noble driving force of environmental protection, in reality they are the ignorant driving force of climate destruction. They always have been. They are also the ‘usefull idiots’ unwittingly serving the needs of substantial elite vested interests, making the irony complete.

Anti-nuclearism is the fundamental cause of the impending death of our climate. Anti-CCS-ism is the nail in the coffin.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 11, 2014 7:20 pm GMT

David, how does

“…carbon market thinking is still struggling to gain a foothold in text proposals for Paris, with one negotiator commenting at an event I attended that “we don’t see much call for markets at this time“.

prevent the U.S. from pricing carbon domestically?

And does not capturing CO2 then selling it for EOR result in net positive carbon emissions, once the emissions from the combusted oil are factored in?

Finally, does Shell’s supposed support for carbon pricing rise above tokenism given its partnership with ALEC, which espouses “limited government” and “free markets” – with carbon pricing antithetical to both?

Bob Bingham's picture
Bob Bingham on Dec 11, 2014 6:59 pm GMT

Carbon capture will never work because its expensive and coal is only cheap if its pollution is vented to the atmosphere for free. There is plenty of natural renewable energy availabel and we should be working harder in that direction. If the USA had spent as much money on geothermal developement as it has on fracking it would have had good, clean long term energy instead of being a massive producer of methane.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 12, 2014 9:06 am GMT

Well I am not so sure. Schalk Clote did a quick calculation some time ago looking at CCUS versus something like solar and came to conclusion that while solar had potentially saved more CO2 (assuming 100% utilisiation of electricity), CCS was not far behind. He then made a quip about which had gotten more funding/subsidies.

CCS is not going to be easy but then dealing with industrial CO2 is hardly going anywhere quickly without it. I will let others worry about the electricity sector.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Dec 12, 2014 10:14 am GMT

What was really concerning about this walk-out was that the younger people who made up the group would rather protest than listen and learn.”

That is hardly surprising. The problem stems from a lack of knowledge in what energy is used for and in accepting slogans without critical thinking (something political parties are good at). I do not know how many times I have seen the claim of ‘fossil free’ or ’emission free’ 2050 being touted over the last few days. These people must have forgotten about how slowly we are decarbonising electricity and how difficult it would be to add transport to that energy carrier. As well as industry….

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 13, 2014 6:11 am GMT

Todd, as you point out the largest CCS project in the U.S. which results in net positive sequestration (EOR doesn’t qualify) is Archer Daniels Midland’s facility in Decatur, IL. The project stores 1 megaton/year of CO2. The world’s annual CO2 output from fossil fuels is 36 gigatons – 36,000 times that.

The idea that CCS will ever make a dent in fossil fuel emissions is insanity.

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