FUEL TO THE FIRE: How Geoengineering Threatens to Entrench Fossil Fuels and Accelerate the Climate Crisis

This report is by the Center for International Environmental Law, c. 2019. it is well researched (465 reports/references) and highly technical in places and why we have only posted the Executive Summary and its Conclusions. Click on the first sentence for the full report.

On 2019-02-14 00:24, Vanya Walker-Leigh wrote:CIEL has issued a new report: 

Fuel to the Fire: How Geoengineering Threatens to Entrench Fossil Fuels and Accelerate the Climate Crisis (Feb 2019)

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Fuel to the Fire: How Geoengineering Threatens to Entrench Fossil Fuels and Accelerate the Climate Crisis investigates the early, ongoing, and often surprising role of the fossil fuel industry in developing, patenting, and promoting key geoengineering technologies. It examines how the most heavily promoted strategies for carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation modification depend on the continued production and combustion of carbon-intensive fuels for their viability. It analyzes how the hypothetical promise of future geoengineering is already being used by major fossil fuel producers to justify the continued production and use of oil, gas, and coal for decades to come. It exposes the stark contrast between the emerging narrative that geoengineering is a morally necessary adjunct to dramatic climate action, and the commercial arguments of key proponents that geoengineering is simply a way of avoiding or reducing the need for true systemic change, even as converging science and technologies demonstrate that shift is both urgently needed and increasingly feasible. Finally, it highlights the growing incoherence of advocating for reliance on speculative and risky geoengineering technologies in the face of mounting evidence that addressing the climate crisis is less about technology than about political will.

Executive Summary

The present report investigates the early, ongoing, and often surprising role of the fossil fuel industry in developing, patenting, and promoting key geoengineering technologies. It examines how the most heavily promoted strategies for carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation modification depend on the continued production and combustion of carbon-intensive fuels for their viability. It analyzes how the hypothetical promise of future geoengineering is already being used by major fossil fuel producers to justify the continued production and use of oil, gas, and coal for decades to come. It exposes the stark contrast between the emerging narrative that geoengineering is a morally necessary adjunct to dramatic climate action, and the commercial arguments of key proponents that geoengineering is simply a way of avoiding or reducing the need for true systemic change, even as converging science and technologies demonstrate that shift is both urgently needed and increasingly feasible. Finally, it highlights the growing incoherence of advocating for reliance on speculative and risky geoengineering technologies in the face of mounting evidence that addressing the climate crisis is less about technology than about political will.

Key Findings and Messages

The urgency of the climate crisis is being used to promote geoengineering. • Models are increasingly including large-scale carbon dioxide removal to account for overshooting (or surpassing 1.5 degrees of warming). • Proponents are seeking increased funding and incentives for research and development of carbon dioxide removal technologies. • A growing set of actors are considering or pursuing research into solar radiation modification, including outdoor experiments.

Geoengineering relies heavily on carbon capture and storage. • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) are separately or jointly required for several forms of carbon dioxide removal. • Most large-scale CCS projects use captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery or enhanced coal bed methane. • Proponents of carbon capture and storage estimate that its use for EOR could spur consumption of 40% more coal and up to 923 million additional barrels of oil in the US alone by 2040.

Most direct air capture is only viable if it produces oil or liquid fuels. • Most current or anticipated commercial applications of direct air capture are for the production of liquid (transport) fuels or enhanced oil recovery, both of which produce significant CO2 emissions. • Leading proponents of direct air capture explicitly market the process as a way to preserve existing energy and transportation systems. • Direct air capture requires large energy inputs, resulting in either associated emissions or the diversion of renewable resources that would otherwise displace fossil fuels.

Carbon mineralization could promote wide dispersal of hazardous combustion wastes. • Achieving large CO2 reductions from mineralization would demand new mining at an unprecedented and infeasible scale. • Coal combustion waste and other industrial wastes have been proposed as alternate feedstocks for mineralization. • The atmospheric impact of using coal combustion waste would be minimal, and the process would promote coal by monetizing the industry’s largest hazardous waste stream.

Reliance on bioenergy with CCS could raise emissions, threaten food security, and justify business as usual. • Carbon dioxide removal often relies heavily on bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), despite warnings that its potential is overstated. • BECCS presents the same use and storage problems as fossil CCS and direct air capture. • Emissions due to land clearance for BECCS could exceed any reduction in atmospheric CO2. • Deploying BECCS at the scale suggested in many models would threaten food security and access to land for millions of people. • Major oil companies rely on massive deployment of BECCS and carbon dioxide removal to justify continued heavy use of oil and gas for the next century.

Solar radiation modification is a dangerous distraction—and is simply dangerous. • Techniques to modify earth’s albedo were among the earliest forms of weather modification and geoengineering research. • Fossil fuel companies have researched environmental modification for decades as a potential profit stream. • Global sulfur dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion show solar radiation modification can affect the climate, with profound risks. • Solar radiation modification could cause acid rain and ozone depletion, disrupt storm and rainfall patterns across large regions, and reduce the growth of crops and CO2-absorbing plants. • The most widely touted solar radiation modification technologies would use sulfate aerosols, which are clearly linked to ozone depletion and acid rain.

Fossil fuel interests have raised the profile of solar radiation modification. • Fossil fuel interests played a significant but largely unrecognized role in shaping the research and public debates on solar radiation modification. • Despite its risks, solar radiation modification has been promoted as a means to delay or minimize other forms of climate action and allow business-as-usual reliance on fossil fuels. • Despite international moratoria, open-air solar radiation modification experiments are being actively explored. • Proponents of solar radiation modification recognize that such tests could open the door to wider-scale deployment of geoengineering.

Geoengineering is creating new tools for climate denial—and they are being used. • Climate denialists have long advocated geoengineering as an excuse for climate inaction. • Recent years have seen a resurgence in geoengineering interest among opponents of climate action. • Contrary to claims by geoengineering proponents, the use of geoengineering by climate denialists is neither uncommon nor coincidental.

We must and can stay below 1.5°C without relying on geoengineering. • Clear and achievable pathways exist for keeping the world below 1.5°C. • All pathways that avoid overshooting 1.5°C of warming require an early, rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. • This transition is ambitious, but achievable by accelerating the deployment of existing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. • Low-risk, win-win approaches exist to reduce CO2 emissions from the land and natural resource sectors while advancing other sustainable development goals. • Geoengineering deployments pose a high risk of delaying the necessary transition, while creating new threats that compound and exacerbate climate impacts

Recommendations

Humanity has a limited and rapidly closing window to avoid truly catastrophic climate change. To keep warming below 1.5 degrees, the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by around 2050. By entrenching fossil fuel interests and promoting continued reliance on fossil infrastructure, geoengineering distracts from more viable solutions and threatens to exacerbate the climate crisis, while exposing large parts of the world to new and significant risks. The managed decline of fossil fuels is both a necessary and achievable solution to the climate crisis.

Climate policy should: •

Focus at the national and global level on the rapid, managed decline of fossil fuels and the accelerated transition to a new energy economy in a timeframe that will keep the world below 1.5 degrees of warming. • Ensure that all public infrastructure investments align with the Paris Agreement and the 1.5-degree goal. • Avoid policies that promote or subsidize the construction of new fossil infrastructure or extend the economic life of existing fossil infrastructure, including through subsidies for carbon capture and storage, direct air capture, or BECCS. • Prohibit open-air experiments of solar radiation modification techniques.

Part 8:  Conclusions

After a century of early warnings and decades of relative inaction, the global community now faces an ultimatum: Act immediately to reduce global CO2 emissions 45% by 2030 and to net zero by around 2050, or commit humanity and the earth to catastrophic levels of climate change. The window of opportunity is narrow and closing rapidly. Making the necessary reductions will demand an immediate and dramatic transition of our economy away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner, safer forms of energy. Faced with the stark realities of climate change and a continued lack of ambition from major governments, a growing number of proponents argue that assuming the world can make the needed changes is naïve and dangerous, and that, accordingly, humanity must consider other options. This report suggests a different conclusion: that the only feasible way to keep the world below 1.5 degrees is to rapidly transform our fossil economy.

Drawing on the history, present landscape, and future prospects for geoengineering, this analysis demonstrates the numerous and dangerous ways in which geoengineering threatens to further entrench the fossil infrastructure that drives climate change and to commit present and future generations to the compounded risks of both climate change and large-scale geoengineering.

Carbon Dioxide Removal is the Carbon (Fossil Fuel) Industry in another form to a profound degree, the viability of strategies for carbon dioxide removal depends on the widespread, economical deployment of carbon capture and storage—and thus on the continued production of burnable fuels through enhanced oil recovery, enhanced coal bed methane, or fossil fuel substitutes produced from biofuels or direct air capture. This dependence on and promotion of CCS would extend the lifetimes of existing coal and gas infrastructure and promote the construction of new fossil infrastructure, which would continue producing and burning fossil fuels for decades to come.

Direct air capture requires enormous energy inputs, consuming renewable energy that could otherwise be used to displace fossil-fueled power. Moreover, DAC is intended for use in the further production of liquid fuels or, like CCS, in enhanced oil recovery, creating powerful incentives to slow the transition away from internal combustion engines. BECCS poses enormous risks to human rights, is fundamentally reliant on CCS, and may not be feasible or even emissions-negative at scale. Meanwhile, enhanced weathering will only be viable—if at all—if it benefits coal-burning utilities and similar industries seeking to dispose of massive, toxic stockpiles of coal combustion waste and industrial slag. Moreover, even as CDR technologies promote new oil and gas production, the prospect of future negative emissions enables major oil, gas, and coal producers to project the continued use of their products for decades to come, discouraging needed investments in cleaner, more viable alternatives.

Solar Radiation Management is a Dangerous Distraction—and Simply Dangerous.

Since at least the 1960s, human interference with the earth’s radiation balance has been seen as a potential driver of future profits for fossil fuel producers and users. Since the beginning of the modern climate debate, these same companies have looked to geoengineering as a promising alternative to emissions reductions. For at least three decades, the fossil fuel industry has argued that the prospect of solar radiation management and other forms of geoengineering justifies delaying or minimizing other actions to address climate change. That perspective has been repeatedly echoed by other geoengineering proponents as well, who envision a future in which the world continues burning fossil fuels and actively controls the earth’s radiation balance for decades or centuries to mask the resulting climate impacts. Even the least speculative of these technologies pose profound and widely recognized risks to the climate, agriculture, and the environment—the consideration of which is routinely discounted or deferred by many advocates of SRM. Whether open-air experiments could reduce the risks associated with particular technologies is uncertain. That such testing would provide a rationale for wider deployment of the technologies involved is likely. That geoengineering is more likely to compound the climate crisis than to alleviate it is clear.

Geoengineering Does Not Solve the Problem at the Heart of the Climate Crisis: Reliance on Fossil Fuels.

The evidence outlined in this report points to a simple but essential truth: Almost all geoengineering proposals serve to entrench and benefit fossil fuel interests rather than solve the climate crisis. By promoting the development of new fossil fuels and costly fossil infrastructure, by diverting resources away from proven mitigation strategies to costly boondoggles, and by sustaining the myth that meaningful climate action can be safely delayed or narrowly constrained, geoengineering threatens to undermine real solutions at the time when they are most urgently needed. As this report demonstrates, the distraction of geoengineering is not simply dangerous; it is unnecessary. While most proposed approaches to CDR and SRM remain speculative, the technologies we need to reduce emissions, transform our economy, and confront the climate crisis are available, proven, and scalable.

Confronting the challenge of climate change is not a matter of future technology, but present political will and economic investment. Elected officials, bureaucrats, activists, and the public are being forced to reckon with geoengineering, in part because of the severity of the crisis and in part because fossil fuel interests have helped usher geoengineering into the public debate. The global community now has to decide whether it will take the hard steps to rapidly and equitably transition its economies away from fossil fuels and into more sustainable systems, or whether it will bet on unproven, questionably effective, and dangerous technologies that serve the interests of the industry at the root of the climate crisis.


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