Sunday, September 02, 2012
An Idiot's Guide to Permanence
To justify its influence in decisions about how the world community responds to Global Warming, the Permanence Principle needs two key credentials: 1. a clear definition as to what it means, ie. what separates Biosequestration from other forms of mitigation and justifies its special treatment; and 2. a firm foundation in science. It has neither. This week, in his blog "Permanence Revisited", Dr Richard Tipper of British software company Ecometrica described what he found when he tried to trace the concept to its source - nothing.
"The concept of permanence or reversibility of emission reductions was a recurrent topic in the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol ... [but] none of the key UNFCCC, IPCC or ISO documents gives a satisfactory definition of this important term."
The leading voluntary market standard, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), insists on Permanence as a core principle. But it does not say what Permanence means. It refers to ISO 14062, part 2 for a definition. “…a criterion to assess whether GHG removals and emission capture and storage are long-term, considering the longevity of a GHG reservoir or carbon pool and the stability of its stocks, given the management and disturbance environment in which it occurs.” This is a "Clayton's Definition" - the definition you have when you're not having a definition.
ISO 14062 refers to an agreement between parties negotiating the Kyoto Protocol, Decision 19/CP.9 which refers to work carried out by the IPCC (Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forests), which repeatedly states “there is no consideration of non-permanence…. because these items are under consideration by SBSTA”. This was 2004. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice has yet to deliver a useful definition.
"Without a clearer definition, an examination of the underlying processes associated with GHG emissions shows many emission-reduction activities could have permanence issues," says Richard Tipper.
You don't need a PhD to see that Renewable Energy, Fuel Switching and Energy Efficiency measures all face the same uncertainty that dogs soil carbon. "The physical units of carbon that would have been emitted in the absence of the low carbon energy strategy are likely to be combusted by another fuel user, especially if renewable energy supply depresses the price of fossil fuels, and the lower price consequently leads to increased consumption of fossil fuels in other places."
If we can rid ourselves of the false distinction and get a level playing field between emissions avoidance and emissions sequestered, we will understand the strategic role each can play in an integrated plan. Biosequestration in the short to medium term, renewable energy in the medium to long term. Biosequestration to draw down CO2 to buy time while alternative energy solutions gain critical mass.
We need a definition of Permanence that has real integrity.
Posted by Michael Kiely at 4:25 PM