IEA calls for fast action on carbon storage in developing world

Developing countries need more than 2,000 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) plants by midcentury to stave off catastrophic global warming, an International Energy Agency report out today will say.

The report, set to be released at the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in London, calls for 100 large-scale, fully deployed CCS plants around the world in the next decade and 3,400 by 2050. With emissions swiftly rising in developing countries, at least 65 percent of those will have to be built in nations still working toward industrialization, said Thomas Kerr, a senior IEA analyst in Paris.

"That means China, India and other developing countries will have to do a lot of CCS and do it fast," Kerr said.

Capturing carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and injecting it into the ground rather than allowing it to waft into the atmosphere has steadily gained political traction in the United States. It is widely viewed in the Obama administration as a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The IEA report comes as nations grapple over what kind of responsibilities still-poor but fast-growing countries should take on as part of an international climate agreement, and what kind of help they will need to move to a low-carbon economy.

Last year, the G-8 nations called for 20 large-scale CCS projects to be announced by 2010 and online by 2020. Those are still works in progress, and none yet are online. Supporters of ramping up the technology internationally, meanwhile, point out that the goal was driven by politics, not analysis. The real need, Kerr and others said, is far steeper.

The "CCS Roadmap," Kerr said, is the first detailed analysis laying out the most cost-effective ways to cut emissions globally. If leaders are serious about keeping global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels or 450 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, he said, countries must ramp up a range of technological options, from renewable energy to nuclear power.

Agency predicts CCS will rank among low-cost options

But in a modeling Kerr described as "not based on technology or political will ... just based on CO2," the agency found CCS will be one of the lowest-cost options in the coming decades, delivering about one-fifth of global emission reductions by midcentury.


Moreover, with 97 percent of emissions growth expected to come from developing countries, the fast-growing nations will need to install the bulk of the technology after 2030.

That could prove tricky. While some countries, like China, have seen significant movement in top political circles on CCS, others, like India, remain staunchly opposed.

In Washington, D.C., recently, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said his government is interested in gasification -- that is, turning coal and other carbon-rich materials into a synthetic gas -- but not storage. Still, U.K. officials said, despite concerns about being used as a guinea pig for new technologies, Indian leaders privately have indicated that they have not entirely ruled out future possibilities.

Matthew Webb, coal campaign leader in Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said he hopes to see international leaders in both developed and developing countries put more emphasis on CCS.

"To get to 450 parts per million, [countries] will have to develop an awful lot of CCS," Webb said. "You've got to make the best use of the next decade, and you've got to start laying the plans to deal with that."

Wanted: funds and 'political drive'

This month, the E.U.-China Cooperation on Near Zero Emissions Coal will announce the results of its first phase and launch new plans for getting a CCS demonstration plant online in China. Two projects initiated in 2005 have so far been in the research stages, but the E.U.-China effort is currently the world's only large-scale bilateral cooperation on carbon capture, said Debbie Stockwell, head of international technology projects in Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Raising funding to help developing countries pay for the still-untested technology also will be a major issue. World Bank officials this week said they held a workshop in September with the IEA to discuss capacity building in poor countries and ways that the World Bank might be able to provide financing. World Bank officials said they are in discussions with "bilateral donors" about a possible new fund.

Meanwhile, analysts say cooperation on CCS could emerge as a major cornerstone of President Obama's trip next month to China. Currently, the Department of Energy is working on the 275-megawatt FutureGen CCS project in Illinois, and last year, the Chinese government approved for construction a 250-megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle plant known as GreenGen.

Webb said he believes nations need to prod the top leaders to move more projects out of the research stage and into the real world of sucking emissions out of the atmosphere.

"If you leave this as an energy department or academic issue, you have lots of 'SometimeGens' around the world," he said. "You need to get energy secretaries and premiers to actually say, 'We know we have to deal with coal to get to 2 degrees.' We need political drive and a fixed date."

Others, though, remain skeptical about developing carbon sequestration plants in any country.

Emily Rochon, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace International, said her group and others have commissioned modeling showing that with enough renewable energy production, China and India could stop coal production by 2020 and then begin to phase it out without giving up strong annual economic growth.

She called the IEA's suggested buildout of sequestration plants "overly ambitious by anyone's estimate" and noted that developing countries still lack infrastructure to verify either the safety of CCS operations or the greenhouse gases captured. Prioritizing clean energy, she argued, "is a much more sane and practical strategy."

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