Carbon, Culture – and our Future

The greatest threat to our planet
is the belief that someone else will save it.

– Robert Swan, OBE
(The first person to walk to both Poles)
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Who are you?

Hi!
I’m Ben Koh.
I am British by nationality, and French-Chinese by heritage.

I recently created a 30-second video about education, which won £1000 in UCAS’s 2016 “Love Learning” competition. I also happen to be a final year student studying Economics and Human Geography (at Lancaster University of course, like all my fellow students in this blog!).

I am driven by an innate desire to help improve the world around me, and hold a cynical view towards the current economic norm of consumerism, with its inefficient use of labour, excessive appetite for non-renewable resources, and altogether questionable ethical standpoint. The contemporary global issues that concern me the most are racial discrimination, neocolonialism, and of course, sustainability.

Why does sustainability matter?

I care deeply about our planet and those who live on it. I want future generations to be able to enjoy a safe, and fair, and beautiful world, and I believe that the key to ensuring we have this kind of social, economic and environmental legacy for our children (and for their children, and so on!) is the development and implementation of sustainable practices in our society, right now, in the present.

However, such a vision will require an incredible amount of international cooperation and technological advancement that will only be possible with strong political support and economic investment, and in this respect, it will be up to world’s biggest and most influential businesses to lead the way. Now, this October, it is precisely these major global actors that will be sending their brightest minds to Chennai, in India, where they will work together to create solutions to the increasingly urgent problems that plague our civilization, such as climate change and poverty.

Of course, I too want to be able to see how these issues are discussed, and to watch as strategies are developed to tackle them, and so I am delighted to have won the opportunity to be a part of this monumental conference. I hope that the knowledge and the skills that I will learn there will further my efforts in the future, as I do my part in trying to help make the world a better place.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to meeting you in Chennai!

If you’d like to hear or see more from me, do feel free to follow me on Facebook or Instagram!

facebook.com/Kohsome
instagram.com/Mumwouldbeproud

Below is my winning piece on Carbon Capture and Storage, and the controversy surrounding its ongoing development. Do feel free to have a read; you may be surprised by the potential benefits of this technology, and the misconceptions stunting its expansion!

Carbon Capture and Storage:
The Black Sheep of Environmental Sustainability?

Climate change is one of the most severe crises humanity has ever faced. The phenomenon has spent much of the past decade on the minds of scientists, the tongues of politicians and the headlines of the media, but it has continuously been an area of contestation and disagreement, and rarely have decisive steps been taken to properly address the issue.

Today, the situation is dire. The IPCC (2013) reports grave increases in disease, ocean acidity, flooding, water pollution, and crop failure among many other damages and hazards to the economy, the environment, and society as a whole. Particularly disastrous effects are being felt by countries such as Bangladesh, which is predicted to lose 50% of its rain­based crop yields by 2020 (Sunny, 2011). Yet despite this, world leaders continue to seem paralyzed in their ability to form a binding protocol to tackle this increasingly urgent issue (Wennersten et al, 2015). Action2020 believes private sector support is critical to tackle climate change, and offers a wide array of solutions in an attempt to coax business leaders into investing in the future of our planet.

This essay will focus on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the discussion of which will be structured into two main sections. The first section briefly outlines the history of CCS and examines the potential benefits it holds as a mitigative response to climate change. The second assesses the various challenges and risks that the solution carries, and how these might be addressed. Finally, the essay concludes with a summary and a critical evaluation of CCS as a whole, and considers the wider role CCS has to play in tandem with the other solutions and predicted future developments.

The premise of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is to prevent carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere by storing it at its source (coal power plants, oil refineries and similar polluting facilities) in underground geological formations. This effectively removes it from the carbon cycle. The necessity of this is based upon current fossil fuel usage, the growth of which is predicted to vastly exceed the expansion of developments in renewable energy (IEA, 2012). The most prominent example of this is China, the world’s biggest polluter at 7954 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which even in the most optimistic of predictions is still expected to show a growth in coal usage of approximately 60% by 2035 (Jiang et al, 2009).

To illustrate the scale of the issue, the below table (IEA, 2013) shows the world’s five most polluting nations, who account for 70% of the world’s CO2 emissions:
At present, global CO2 emissions are approaching 400 parts per million (ppm) ­ well over the 350 ppm safe limit stated by Rockström et al in 2009. Large­scale CCS would therefore appear to be the only realistic short­term method of reducing carbon emissions. Increased investment into CCS would make carbon neutrality feasible in current power­generating activities, buying time to advance and implement more permanent solutions such as renewable energy alternatives.

According to the Global CCS Institute (2014) there are already 65 large­scale integrated CCS projects in the world, 23 of which are in the United States. Pilot schemes are running in all the other major polluters, except India, which believes the technology to be insufficiently developed (Shackley and Verma, 2008).
Despite these positive developments, CCS is unfortunately plagued by a number of challenging issues. Whilst technologically feasible, social and economic barriers are severely inhibiting its progress. The former of these two is driven by the public distrust of “transition” technologies (often associated with fracking), which are perceived to move investment away from renewables and delay their adoption. The EU (2009) claims CCS is a complement rather than an alternative to other solutions, stating that

CCS “should not serve as an incentive to increase the share of fossil fuel power plants. Its development should not lead to a reduction of efforts to support energy saving policies, renewable energies and other safe and sustainable low carbon technologies, both in research and financial terms”.

However, it is as yet unclear as to whether this statement holds true, as it is only recently that CCS has begun to attract more substantial funding (Shackley et al, 2009). Another social issue is the understanding of the health risk, which is at present not sufficiently well­communicated. Feenstra et al., 2010 examine how the construction of a CCS facility in the Netherlands was halted due to the failure to clearly and openly explain these potential risks to the public. De BestWaldhober et al. (2009) claim information on CCS should also include details of alternatives such as nuclear energy as well as hydroelectric power, which also carry risks for humans and the environment.

In economic terms, the most major barrier are the subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuels, which Wennersten et al. (2015) argue need to be redirected to CCS and renewables in order to prevent CO2 emission from being viable. However, this would inevitably raise electricity prices, which is difficult politically. Furthermore, though the probability is low, leakages of CO2 could potentially cause suffocation, and as such trusted public bodies such as NGOs have held mixed views on the matter. As the opinion of the public often sways the decisions of politicians, governments are finding it difficult to produce legislations that encourage companies to invest in CCS.

To summarize, CCS is an indispensable asset with enormous potential to mitigate CO2 emissions. However, social and economic factors currently hamper the progress of this technologically and environmentally sound solution. The general public is insufficiently informed regarding the magnitude of the carbon situation and continues to place excessive faith in the development of renewables. Better communication is key to foster trust in stakeholders and help build an understanding of the necessity of CCS. In lieu of international binding agreements concerning climate change (which we lack, and arguably continues to be the single greatest setback in tackling climate change), businesses and governments must make a coordinated effort in order to make this solution commercially viable. Investment in this sector will need to be stimulated by moving subsidies away from fossil fuels. It is also important to understand that CCS is not a solitary solution, but one of several pillars supporting the bridge from the past of coal and crude oil to the future of wind and solar power. To some degree, it is unreasonable to critically evaluate CCS in isolation, as successfully tackling global warming will require a combined approach that integrates many other elements including the improvement of energy efficiency, the reduction of rainforest damage, and additional investment into renewable power. In terms of technological research, there may also economies of scope to be had as there is substantial overlap between the different solutions. In short, Action2020 correctly identifies that communication with the public is essential, and while CCS has the potential to be a formidable force in combating climate change, investors will remain hesitant until major breakthroughs occur in this regard.

The population problem has no technical solution;
it requires a fundamental extension in morality.

Garrett Hardin,
The Tragedy of the Commons, 1968

References

Alexander, L., Allen, S., Bindoff, N., Breon, F., Church, J., Cubasch, U., Emori, S., Forster, P., Friedlingstein, P., Gillett, N., and Gregory, J., 2013. Summary for policymakers. Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013 ­ IPCC. [Online] Available: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment­report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf Accessed 26/07/2016.

de Best­Waldhober, M., Daamen, D., Ramirez, A., Faaij, A., Hendriks, C., de Visser, E., 2009. Informed public opinions on CCS in comparison to other mitigation options. Energy Procedia 1, pp.4795­4802.

European Union, 2009. Directive 2009/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the
Council of 23 April 2009 on the Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide and Amending Council Directive 85/337/EEC, European Parliament and Council Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC, 2008/1/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 1013/2006 Text with EEA Elevance. The European Union, Brussels, Belgium. Available at: http://www.emissions­euets.com/attachments/214_ccs%20directive.pdf Accessed 26/07/2016.

Feenstra, C., Mikunda, T., Brunsting, S., 2010.What Happened in Barendrecht: Case Study on the Planned Onshore Carbon Dioxide Storage in Barendrecht, the Netherlands. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia. [Online] Available: http://www.csiro.au/en/Outcomes/Energy/non­approved­Energy­from­coal/~/media/C SIROau/Flagships/Energy%20Transformed%20Flagship/CaseStudy_Barendrecht_E TF_pdf%20Standard.pdfAccessed 26/07/2016.

Hardin, G., 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162, pp.1243­1248.

IEA, 2012. World Energy Outlook 2012. Vienna: IEA.

IEA, 2013. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion Highlights 2013. International Energy Agency, Paris, France.

Kejun, J., Xiulian, H., Xing, Z. and Qiang, L., 2009. China′ s Low­carbon Scenarios and Roadmap for 2050 [J]. Sino­Global Energy, 6(6), pp.21­26.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J. and Nykvist, B., 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), pp.472­475.

Shackley, S., Verma, P., 2008. Tackling CO2 reduction in India through use of CO2 capture and storage (CCS): prospects and challenges. Energy Policy 36, pp.3554­3561.
Shackley, S., Reiner, D., Upham, P., de Coninck, H., Sigurthorsson, G., Anderson, J., 2009.The acceptability of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) in Europe: an assessment of the key determining factors: part 2. The social acceptability of CCS and the wider impacts and repercussions of its implementation. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control 3, pp.344­356.

Sunny, S. (2011). Green Buildings, Clean Transport and the Low Carbon Economy: Towards Bangladesh’s Vision of a Greener Tomorrow. Germany: LAP Publishers.

The Global CCS Institute, 2014. Status of CCS Project Database. Global­ ccsinstitute.com, Australia. [Online] Available: http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/projects/browseAccessed 26/07/2016

Wennersten, R., Sun, Q. and Li, H., 2015. The future potential for Carbon Capture and Storage in climate change mitigation–an overview from perspectives of technology, economy and risk. Journal of Cleaner Production, 103, pp.724­736.

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