Archive for March, 2007

Wally Broecker (at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University) calls for a new approach to the problem of increasing atmospheric CO2 buildup (“CO2 Arithmetic” in Science 9 March 2007 ). Broecker argues that we need to begin to think in terms of a carbon pie rather than only in terms of conservation and alternative energy sources. He contends that most current policies such as the Kyoto Protocol or cap and trade regimes look at the problem as one of incremental reductions in emissions. Such policies, however, merely slow the rate of increase in emissions. Broecker’s solution contains two parts. First, he suggests a heuristic carbon pie. Currently, for every 4 Gt of fossil carbon combusted, atmospheric CO2 increases by 1 ppm. Based on this ratio, we could set an upper limit for atmospheric CO2 content. This would fix the size of the global carbon pie. For example, establishing a limit of 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere would create a carbon pie of 280 Gt (4 x (450-380)).

After creating the pie, the states of the world would have to allocate slices amongst themselves. Ideally, the size of the slices would be set by population. This would force the states emitting the most CO2 to rapidly reduce emissions. Poorer states with high populations could sell some of their pie and still have enough for industrialization. If the size of the pie was set even as high as 560 ppm (double the preindustrial level), Broecker believes that no combination of energy efficiency, non-fossil energy sources, and carbon capture and storage from electricity plants would sufficiently reduce emissions.

The idea of a carbon pie is not new. The second part of Broecker’s plan is new. The additional measure he suggests is sequestration of CO2 captured from the atmosphere. This would be accomplished by using chemicals to remove CO2 from the air and then using other chemicals to release the CO2 from the capturing chemicals. Broecker states that capture from the atmosphere is “feasible, but has yet to be implemented, and faces several technological challenges.” He goes on to call for more research on carbon capture and sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere as well as from coal gasification plants. The only people conducting such research that I am aware of are at the Climate Decision Making Center at Carnegie Mellon aircapture.pdf and at NETL netlaircapture.pdf.


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The UK government has issued a draft bill that would set binding GHG emissions targets. The Climate Change Bill britian-climate-change-bill-2007.pdf calls for a series of 5-year carbon budgets that would result in a minimum 60% reduction in emissions by 2050. If it becomes a statute, the legislation will be the first of its kind. The GHG targets will be legally binding, with the government subject to judicial review (see section 5.44). The bill also proposes an independent monitoring committee. The bill does not prescribe any specific meas of emissions reduction, but does mention taxes, voluntary agreemements, regulations, and trading schemes as possible methods.

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Here is the news story, it looks like it has been passed around a few surf websites, I got it from Magic Seaweed:

Greenhouse Gas Ocean Burial Okayed

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 12 February, 2007 : – – OSLO – International rules allowing burial of greenhouse gases beneath the seabed enter into force on Saturday in what will be a step toward fighting global warming, if storage costs are cut and leaks can be averted. The new rules will permit industrialists to capture heat-trapping gases from big emitters such as coal-fired power plants or steel mills and entomb them offshore — slowing warming while allowing continued use of fossil fuels.

“Storage of carbon dioxide under the seabed will be allowed from Feb. 10, 2007 under amendments to an international agreement governing the dumping of wastes at sea,” the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said in a statement. The new rules, agreed upon in November, amend the UN’s London Convention on dumping at sea. Its text had been unclear about whether carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels, counted as a pollutant.

The changes apply to oceans worldwide and could clear the way to more investment in future subsea carbon storage by governments and companies, despite criticism by environmentalists that there are few safeguards against leaks. “This removes a lack of clarity and doubt for investors,” said Tore Torp, carbon dioxide storage adviser at Norwegian oil group Statoil which opened the world’s first commercial store of carbon dioxide in the North Sea in 1996.

A 2005 UN report, however, warned that such storage would only be widely applied if the penalty for emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere was US$25-US$30 a tonne — far above current prices in a European Union market.

It said carbon burial could be one of the top contributors to slowing warming this century. And in Paris last week, top climate scientists warned that global warming could bring rising seas, more floods, storms and heatwaves by 2100.


Statoil’s view has been that previous rules on ocean storage already allowed carbon burial. On land, national laws generally govern burial of carbon dioxide. Greenpeace, which has branded subsea storage as illegal dumping in the past, said the revisions were too hasty. “We think the London Convention has not taken objections seriously — such as who will be responsible for leaks, who will oversee the storage, who will clean up,” he said.

Carbon dioxide is not toxic but can lead to acidification of sea water, making it hard for creatures from shrimp to oysters to build shells. In heavy concentrations above ground it can displace air and so asphyxiate animals and plants. The amendments pave the way for carbon storage in “sub-seabed geological formations” and say gases injected must consist “overwhelmingly” of carbon dioxide with no added waste.

Torp said there was uncertainty about what “overwhelmingly” meant — emissions from a coal-fired power plant, for instance, might include some toxic sulphur dioxide. Statoil has injected about nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide in rocks far below its Sleipner gas field in the past decade, with no signs of leaks, Torp said. Following Sleipner, two other big carbon storage sites are in operation in Canada and Algeria and more are planned.

Here is what the International Maritime Organization had to say:

2006 Amendments to the 1996 Protocol
2 November 2006
Entry into force: 10 February 2007
Storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) under the seabed will be allowed from 10 February 2007, under amendments to an international convention governing the dumping of wastes at sea.

Contracting Parties to the London Protocol, at their first meeting held in London from 30 October to 3 November, adopted amendments to the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (London Convention). The amendments regulate the sequestration of CO2 streams from CO2 capture processes in sub-seabed geological formations.

Parties also agreed that guidance on the means by which sub-seabed geological sequestration of carbon dioxide can be conducted should be developed as soon as possible. This will, when finalized, form an important part of the regulation of this activity. Arrangements have been made to ensure that this guidance will be considered for adoption at the 2nd Meeting of Contracting Parties in November 2007.

This means that a basis has been created in international environmental law to regulate carbon capture and storage (CCS) in sub-seabed geological formations, for permanent isolation, as part of a suite of measures to tackle the challenge of climate change and ocean acidification, including, first and foremost, the need to further develop low carbon forms of energy. In practice, this option would apply to large point sources of CO2 emissions, including power plants, steel and cement works.

The amendments, which will enter into force 100 days after adoption (i.e. on 10 February 2007), state that carbon dioxide streams may only be considered for dumping, if: disposal is into a sub-seabed geological formation; they consist overwhelmingly of carbon dioxide (they may contain incidental associated substances derived from the source material and the capture and sequestration processes used); and no wastes or other matter are added for the purpose of disposing of them.

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Carbon Cult?

In a new twist on the ‘technology will save us’, former Canadian defence minister Paul Hellyer said be believes advanced technology from extraterrestrial civilizations may “save our planet” from the perils of climate change. “I’m not discouraging anyone from being green conscious, but I would like to see what (alien) technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation.” Mr. Hellyer went on the state that: “To have traveled hundreds of trillions of kilometres, interstellar visitors would, at a minimum, require a civilization that is thousands — if not millions — of years ahead of our own. One would imagine they went through their own fossil fuel era, and that they solved it and didn’t go through some kind of pollution holocaust.” He called on governments and military to “come clean on what they know” about aliens that already visited our planet. Perhaps TXU can build a few landing strips in Texas.

Here is a link to the article on Hellyer. Environmental Defense played a role in brokering a deal that led to the termination of plans to build 8 of the proposed TXU coal-fired power plants, as did NRDC. And here is a link to Richard Feynman’s take on cargo cult science.

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