Insights and Commentaries

Insights and Commentaries

Week Two at COP23, Bonn: Bigger Splashes and Rising Stars

17th November 2017

Topic(s): Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS)

This was to be the week of action, as it always is, when the Ministers, dignitaries and the celebrities with a cause touch down. It’s also when the negotiations have to drive to a conclusion; the work has to get done after the posturing and agenda agreeing process of week 1.

Word has it that Leonardo DiCaprio made an appearance. I missed it. But much bigger splashes were made by Arnold Schwarzenegger (I did see him), Michael Bloomberg and a whole bunch of State Governors from the US who were there to proclaim that the US is still in, albeit at a State level. A number of additional US accredited attendees wore and freely handed out small “America’s pledge” lapel badges which proclaimed: “#we are still in”, just in case anyone thought the US was out.

It was the week when Michael Bloomberg committed US $50 million to end the use of coal and Canada and the United Kingdom announced the “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, attracting a further 17 countries as end-coal affiliates along with a further six states and provinces. It is notable that after the UK and Canada, most of the remaining 17 countries in the alliance already have limited or no coal fired generation capacity while the key coal using countries for power generation – China, the US and Germany – are not parties to the Alliance. Very reassuringly, and importantly, the Alliance specifically commits to the phasing out of ‘existing traditional coal power… and a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without carbon capture and storage’ (bolding added). The declaration can be found here

And this is the point. CCS is definitely in the conversation. Our media conference to launch the 2017 Global Status of CCS report was very well attended and led to significant media coverage. Our CCS side events despite the trauma of separate campuses – see my previous article – were very well attended and not just by the CCS devotees. Our booth in the second week was regularly visited by people wanting a lot more information on CCS and there was a much higher enquiry level from many country officials about CCS than we have previously encountered.

This is not so surprising.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report released in the week leading into COP23 examining the ‘gap’ between Paris objectives and current trajectory certainly impacted the thoughts of many. Current commitments and policies of all countries leave us a long way from the 2oC and 1.5oC objectives. As countries do the calculations and examine the options for massively increased abatement ambitions, they inevitably are looking beyond the power sector and renewables. CCS is necessary and the realisation is dawning on many. Industrial emissions and the new energy economy is much bigger than just renewables and other solutions are necessary as well.

So what happened in the negotiations? This was the COP to progress the creation of a rule book to implement the Paris Agreement. Approval is the task for the next COP in Katowice, Poland next year. It is also the year when the first stock take will be commissioned and if the UNEP report is anything to go by, the result won’t be pretty.

The parties got the job done in the end and my colleague John Scowcroft will cover the detail of the negotiations in a separate note. In my view nothing happened that is detrimental to CCS. So here’s a few personal observations:

  • Paris broke the long-held approach of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) where the developing countries were accommodated with lesser abatement expectations and obligations in achieving climate targets. But this old chestnut returned at this COP and while inconsistent with the nationally determined contribution approach embodied in the Paris agreement, looms as a big issue. It impacts the climate financing discussion, the 2018 stocktake and 2023 new commitments processes. It could return us to a confrontational posture that has already shown itself to be unhelpful in achieving positive climate outcomes;

  • Coal for power generation is definitely under siege and at least in the OECD countries has never faced as much determined action by governments to end it. Pleasingly, CCS is seen as the only way that coal fired generation can continue. This ‘end coal’ movement is growing and in my view will likely accelerate in the coming year. The next target will be gas for power generation and again CCS will be necessary if gas for power is to continue. The exception is the use of coal for power generation in mainly Asian developing countries, where a different sentiment is still evident, but even that is being tested;

  • There is a growing recognition by governments that industrial emissions must be addressed soon and much of the CCS discussion is now focused on this. Side events run by several other organisations focussed on this issue and involved representatives from associations whose members are involved in industrial processes and product – particularly steel and cement. In what is a complete re-run of the early reactions of the power industry to the need to decarbonise, we witnessed a constant stream of complaint that all that can be done to reduce emissions has been done, and someone will have to pay industry to adopt CCS. No doubt policy needs to be clear, reliable and investable, but the shallow representations to date on this fundamental issue show again that some sectors have a long road ahead of them. The power sector provides a blueprint for how this game plays out.

COP23 continued the positive sentiment toward CCS that we detected at Marrakech last year. But more work is ahead of us to move CCS into the mainstream. The Institute is up for this challenge and our recent re-structure and new strategic plans is exactly targeted at this.

With an impactful strategy, a growing membership base, and an influential cast of influencers promoting our cause, we believe the CCS star will continue to rise over the 12 months.

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