Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Commercialized Carbon Removal

The Guardian has an interesting article about startups working on capturing carbon dioxide from the air – a necessary technology if we are serious about any kind of climate goal with less CO2 than our business-as-usual pathway.  What are the companies doing and why is it important?  The article highlights three businesses: Carbon Engineering, Global Thermostat and Climeworks, which started in the 2000’s.  “All are aiming to make low-carbon fuels, used recycled CO2 and renewable energy to power the process.”  They’re making low-carbon fuels because small markets for them already exist.  Those markets will have to increase in size and scope for these startups to grow.

That’s one important aspect.  Another is the so-called “climate goal”.  As stated by international groups and increasing numbers of scientists, the climate goal is keeping CO2 concentrations below a certain threshold in order to keep global temperatures from increasing above 2C.  There is another international climate conference scheduled for later this year – the Conference of Parties in Paris, France (COP-21).  Leading up to that conference, countries are submitting carbon reduction goals that can be internationally monitored and verified.  Goals stated so far will definitely not meet the <2C goal – read about the UK’s goals here, for example, or here about the 45 countries who submitted plans already.  The reason is simple: we cannot deploy enough renewable energy generation or institute enough efficiency measures or change fuel types fast enough that will translate into halving global CO2 emissions within 10 years and going net negative by 2050.

What these companies are doing is directly related to that last goal: net negative CO2 emissions.  It won’t happen by 2050 or any other year unless we push serious money into research, development, and deployment.  It will take the private and public sectors working together for decades for utility-scale CO2 withdrawal from fuel burning and the free atmosphere.  These companies, and others, are the forefront of that industry.  But they need capital – a lot of it.  Cashflow at this juncture of their existence is crucial for them to exist long enough to deploy their technologies and evolve them as they run in the real world.  Anyone have a spare million or so dollars sitting around?



Bonn Climate Negotiations Predictably Go Nowhere

As I predicted last week, the climate deal negotiations held in Bonn, Germany resulted in … nothing.  Well, that’s not completely accurate.  There was plenty of bickering and diplomatic drama, but the negotiations produced nothing of substance.  Put simply, there are too many competing interests for any global-scale deal to be decided on or put into place in the next 5-10 years.  Economic growth garners more attention and too many people still incorrectly believe that scientific innovation doesn’t facilitate that growth.

The quickest way to get countries to act on the climate is to improve their peoples’ standard of living.  Pull or push the developing world up to developed-world standards and hundreds of millions more people will be able and willing to take action on anthropogenic climate change.  As the world stands now, too many people are still forced to prioritize their personal survival.  Environmental NGOs would do themselves and the world a favor by focusing efforts toward cheap, clean energy access to billions who don’t currently have it.

Additionally, interested countries need to take the lead on action and set up mechanisms that allow them to benefit as currently recalcitrant countries climb on the climate action bandwagon.  While it would be unwieldy in the mid-term, countries should consider establishing multiple climate treaties that perform various tasks, then combining those treaties at some point in the future.  Almost everyone agrees that some action is better than none.  So why should everyone shoot for the moon from the start?

Negotiators will meet again in Qatar in November of this year.  The stated goal is to have drafted something by 2015 that goes into force by 2020.  I don’t think they will succeed for the reasons I briefly discussed above in addition to ones left out of this post.  Let’s see if I’m wrong.