The UN COP 20 process opens December 1st in Lima, Peru, where climate negotiators from across the globe will spend the next two weeks working to build a comprehensive international agreement to fight climate change. While the serious negotiations around a comprehensive treaty are expected to happen next year at the Paris COP meetings, negotiations in Lima will nevertheless be important to narrow down exactly what will be on the table in Paris, and to build trust among negotiators for next year's session.
Given this, what role might carbon dioxide removal ("CDR") techniques play in the Lima negotiations?
1. Simply being part of the dialogue would be big win for CDR.
CDR needs to be part of the international dialogue about preventing climate change. The IPCC is increasingly convinced that large-scale CDR will be necessary to prevent climate change, yet CDR solutions remain largely under-developed. While international negotiations have focused on mitigation and adaptation, relatively little time has been spent discussing the appropriate role for CDR in international GHG abatement programs. CDR solutions will likely require special treatment in international treaties (as many CDR techniques are less economically-viable than other GHG abatement approaches today), and it is important that today's negotiations pave the way for future CDR deployments.
2. A "third way" to enable climate change mitigation AND development
CDR approaches could help resolve the inherent tension between decarbonization and development. Developing countries remain hesitant to adopt strict decarbonization plans out of fears that these commitments will hinder their economic growth. Were cost-effective CDR solutions available at large scale, however, developing countries could continue to rely on fossil fuel energy sources until the business case for renewable energy improved, so long as CDR were deployed to offset fossil emissions associated with this transition. In this case, the "delay" in decarbonization associated with large-scale CDR deployments could counter-intuitively enable a quicker transition to renewable energy, by providing negotiators with the ability to agree to more meaningful and quicker reductions in net emissions.
3. Ensuring that sequestration is appropriately accounted for in emission trading schemes
As negotiators lay the groundwork for comprehensive GHG emission accounting and abatement programs, they need to ensure that the frameworks they develop appropriately incentivize CDR projects. In the past, it has been unclear how CDR approaches like biomass energy with CCS (bio-CCS) could participate in GHG emission abatement schemes. As the need for CDR approaches like Direct Air Capture (DAC) and bio-CCS increases, it is critical that all CDR approaches get appropriate financial remuneration alongside fossil CCS projects.
4. Leveraging initiatives like the Green Climate Fund to kickstart the development of the CDR field
As financial commitments continue to come in for initiatives like Green Climate Fund, negotiators will have increased opportunities to fund projects that could catalyze development of the CDR field. CDR projects frequently require different financing mechanisms than other mitigation and adaptation projects today. The GCF and other financing programs could provide pivotal early capital to help develop CDR projects.
Bottom Line: CDR can play an important and beneficial role in international climate negotiations, and it would be great to see negotiators start to incorporate CDR into the dialogues in Lima and beyond.