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Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture

We humans are an interesting species … instead of seeing eye-to-eye, we are inclined to see eye-to-nose.  We focus on the present and ourselves, particularly where our comfort is concerned, no matter how dire the predictions for the future.

Although these are now over, such has been evident at the climate change talks in Katowice, Poland.  An effort to mandate the Paris agreement, in light of the dire 1.5C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been stymied repeatedly by Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait.  Particularly disturbed are island countries like the Maldives that are literally disappearing with sea-level rise.  One of the last spats was on the word “welcoming” as in welcoming the IPCC 1.5C report.  It has been changed to “welcomes the timely completion of … ” in the final draft thereby not endorsing its conclusions, stark warnings or more ambitious goals.

The serious sticking point has been Article 6.  It deals with country plans and is of special concern to the poorer countries promised financial support.  But to obtain it Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of carbon emissions reduction is sought by donor agencies and private sector groups.

Thus Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is an international organization promoting balanced economic growth, that is without harming the environment.  It can help prepare a low emissions development strategy by assisting in developing viable MRV schemes.   It has for Colombia, Fiji and Mongolia, and is pursuing the same for others like Laos, Mozambique, Nepal and Senegal among others,  Sri Lanka, a vulnerable island nation, has prepared MRV systems for energy and transportation but requires help in other areas like agriculture, animal husbandry and industrial emissions.

The terms of financial support are crucial for such countries to fulfill their obligations.  The ‘haves’ have to be generous and the need for verification is clear, as are necessary incentives to bring in the private sector voluntarily.  Though a compromise, the new draft text walks the extra mile for developing countries.

Meanwhile Brazil, heavily invested in the old clean development mechanism, dug in its heels on carbon markets and trade (also Article 6).  No settlement.  It wants to retain carbon credits earned under the old regime.  On this one COP24 kicked the can down the road to 2019.  Negotiations are not going to be any easier with Jair Bolsonaro the incoming president.  But that’s in the future.  Right now it’s time to get back home for the holidays.

While they roll out the new “rulebook” in Katowice, there is some good news of developments in clean solar energy and carbon capture:

A solar tower absorbs heat form an array of rotating mirrors (heliostats) focusing the sun’s rays on to it.  Inside this solar absorber is a special salt solution.  Heated to high temperatures, it, in turn, heats water in an adjacent boiler converting it into steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The highly corrosive salts in the solution damage the towers.  However, as reported in Renewable Energy, researchers have now found a way to add another five years or so to tower life.  Silicon Carbide is presently the preferred containment material.  The researchers discovered that adding Aluminum Nitride to make a composite not only improved conductivity performance but resisted corrosion more effectively.

The second good thing:  In the UK, large-scale Carbon Capture and Usage (CCUS) is to be implemented in fuel-intensive industries like steel, cement production and oil refining, and a new solvent-based CO2 Capture Technology appears promising.  The captured gas can be recycled into blast furnaces, used to bind concrete, recover oil, and used even in pharmaceutical processes and decaffeinating coffee.  As Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency observed, “Without CCUS as part of the solution, reaching our international climate goals is practically impossible.”

The first carbon capture and usage project of this type is lined up for the 2020s with scaling up into the other industries scheduled for the 2030s.  There were 102 carbon capture projects globally at the end of 2017 with 53 in the US.  The nature and scope of these can be ascertained through an interactive map displayed by Third Way.

All in all not too bad a week for the planet.  We have a resuscitated Paris agreement albeit with many compromises and therefore more work ahead.  But as noted in the beginning, such is the nature of us humans.

More articles by:

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.

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