The specter of geoengineering haunts the Paris climate agreement
Date Written: 2016-01-25
Publisher: Climate & Capitalism
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX18756
in a capitalist framework negative emissions technologies appear to offer the only possible way out. Geoengineering is the specter that haunts the text adopted in Paris and gives it meaning. The fact that the Agreement does not mention "energy transition" is not a regrettable lapse in generally good text, but proof by omission that the negotiators have chosen to bet on geoengineering instead of confronting fossil capital.
in a capitalist framework negative emissions technologies appear to offer the only possible way out.
Geoengineering is the specter that haunts the text adopted in Paris and gives it meaning. Otherwise, why mention emissions peaks, rate reductions, the possibility of decarbonisation? From now on, all of these concepts depend on the potential of NET, which they will address at some future date. The fact that the Agreement does not mention "energy transition" is not a regrettable lapse in generally good text, but proof by omission that the negotiators have chosen to bet on geoengineering instead of confronting fossil capital.
Among the Negative Emission Technologies, one is particularly prominent: BECCS, the massive use of biomass as an energy source. It is the least costly for the energy sector, because it does not require major system changes and is suitable for electrical generation, biogas and liquid fuel. Unlike synthetic trees, BECCS doesn’t just remove CO2 from the air, it gives energy companies something to sell.
The IPCC cites studies that suggest 3 gigatons a year as a "realistic" mount of carbon that BECCS could remove from the atmosphere by 2050, at an acceptable capital cost, so it is potentially economic. Working Group III also devotes a dozen pages to the uncertainties and risks of geological sequestration in general, and of BECCS in particular. However, when decisions are made, all that's required is "fully functioning markets" and "competitive market behavior," so the Durban experts group summary report on INDCs did not even mention the NET risks that the IPCC describes.
Nevertheless the risks are substantial. Risks to biodiversity, jeopardized by bio-energy projects. Risks to rural communities and indigenous peoples, faced by new pressure from land grabbing. Risks to wage earners and the poor, because competition between energy crops and food crops will drive up food prices. Risks for wage earners, particularly in sectors that emit greenhouse gases, because the profitability of those industries will be affected. Risks for women, the frontline troops in so many socio-ecological conflicts, who produce 80% of all food crops.
A recent paper outlines some of the consequences of competition between energy and food crops. The authors say that using BECSS to remove 3 gigatons of carbon a year from the atmosphere would require establishing of industrial plantations covering 7 to 25% of all agricultural land (25 to 46% of arable and permanent crop land). Water is another concern: the project would increase human use of potable water by 3%. If plantations were established on non-irrigated land, the 3 gigatons target could only be achieved by a 40% increase in their area.