Climate Compass Blog
A team of international legal scholars recently presented their analysis of the core principles guiding international climate change law. Their findings, particularly on the sensitive issue of equity, should be helpful to negotiators working toward a new global climate agreement next year in Paris.
The analysis by the Committee on the Legal Principles Relating to Climate Change comes as countries gear up for the final 18 months of a four-year round of climate negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Durban Platform decision that launched the talks in 2011 calls for an agreement that will apply post-2020, have “legal force,” and “be applicable to all Parties.”
That final phrase is an oblique nod to an issue at the core of the climate negotiations from the start – the appropriate distribution of effort among developed and developing countries. While not speaking directly to the Paris talks, the Committee makes a clear case for a more nuanced, evolutionary approach to this thorny issue of “differentiation.”
The UNFCCC speaks to the broad issue of equity primarily through the core principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” While the principle has universal support, how it’s applied is a frequent dividing point.
If carbon dioxide were a valuable commodity instead of a waste product, there would be a lot more incentive to capture it.
It turns out some oil producers already find carbon dioxide so useful, they’re willing to pay for it. In fact, they pay upwards of $30 per ton of CO2, which they then inject underground to coax oil from declining wells.
U.S. oil producers have been practicing carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) for four decades. Historically, they’ve relied mostly on CO2 from naturally occurring underground reservoirs. A better idea is to use man-made carbon emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
A range of tools, including state action and power market changes, are needed to ensure that existing nuclear power plants help keep the United States on track to meeting its climate goals. That was the consensus of experts C2ES convened this week at the National Press Club to discuss nuclear’s role as a zero-carbon energy source.
In a new brief, Climate Solutions: The Role of Nuclear Power, C2ES laid out some of the factors that led to the premature retirement of five nuclear reactors. Nuclear power provides more than 60 percent of zero-carbon emission electricity in the United States. So further closures will make it harder to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.
C2ES assembled a group of experts, including Peter Lyons, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy; Carol Browner, Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow and former EPA Administrator; and Bill Mohl, President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, to suggest potential remedies for preserving the existing nuclear fleet.
Notably, not all of the 100 operating nuclear reactors are at risk, only the 46 that operate as “merchant” generators and compete in wholesale power markets. Pressures they face include low natural gas prices, renewables policy, a slowdown in demand for electricity, unfavorable power market structures, and the absence of a price on carbon.
From late 2012 through the summer of 2013, four power companies announced the early retirement of five nuclear reactors. In early 2014, the nation’s largest operator of nuclear power plants announced that it, too, is considering early retirements for some of its Midwest reactors.
In a new brief, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) looks at what’s behind these recent announcements, and how a continued loss of nuclear power – a zero-carbon energy source -- could make it harder for the United States to meet its climate goals.
Since 1990, nuclear power has consistently supplied about one-fifth of U.S. electricity. More importantly from a climate perspective, it has represented the lion’s share -- 60 to 70 percent -- of all zero-carbon electricity.
The increased availability of natural gas is leading to its expanded use worldwide. Substituting natural gas for coal as a fuel for generating electricity helps reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change because burning natural gas emits only about half as much carbon as burning coal.
But half isn’t zero.
That’s why it’s important to note the recent announcement in the United Kingdom of the next step in building the first full-scale commercial natural gas power plant using carbon capture and storage (CCS).
In the Peterhead CCS project, international oil company Shell and British utility Scottish and Southern Energy Company are teaming up to retrofit a 385 MW natural gas power plant to capture post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2). Pipelines will take the CO2 to permanent storage in a depleted hydrocarbon reservoir two kilometers under the North Sea. When the project, which received U.K. government incentives, comes online in 2018, it will be able to capture and store 1 million tons of CO2 each year for 10 years.