Ahead of the UN Climate Change talks in Paris (COP21), this open letter was sent to the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres today on behalf of 41 signatories representing CO2 storage expertise from 13 countries. The letter also provides a link to supporting evidence.
Dear Ms Figueres,
The geological storage of carbon dioxide for Carbon Capture and Storage is secure and safe
As geoscientists and engineers representing decades of scientific research worldwide we would like to reassure the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that the geological storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) with relevance to carbon capture and storage (CCS) is safe, secure and effective, and we have considerable evidence to show this.
Extensive research gives us very high confidence that CO2 storage in appropriately selected sites is secure over geological timescales and leakage is very unlikely. The residual risk of leakage can be managed by well-understood procedures and presents very low risk of harm to the climate, environment or human health.
The knowledge and techniques required to select secure storage sites are well established, being built upon decades of experience in hydrocarbon exploration and production. A global capacity of suitable CO2 storage sites has been estimated at several trillion tonnes. There is also extensive experience of CO2 injection and storage in a variety of situations and locations around the world.
We can state the following with very high confidence:
– Natural CO2 reservoirs have securely held billions of tonnes of CO2 underground for millions of years. These provide an understanding of CO2 storage processes and inform the selection of rock formations for secure storage as part of full-chain CCS.
– Stored CO2 is securely contained by physical and chemical processes that increase storage security with time. Injected CO2, held within the storage site by multiple layers of impermeable rocks, is trapped in isolated pockets, dissolves in fluids in the rock and may eventually react with the rock to make new minerals.
– Millions of tonnes of CO2 have been injected and stored since 1972 in storage pilots and demonstrations, enhanced oil recovery and other industry practices. Accumulated experience of CO2 injection worldwide has led to the development of routine best practices for the operation and closure of CO2 storage sites, and provides direct evidence of engineered storage security.
– CO2 injected into underground rocks can be monitored to confirm its containment. A variety of monitoring methods has been developed and demonstrated. In the very unlikely event of poor site selection, these techniques are able to identify unexpected CO2 migration before leakage to the surface can occur.
– Leakage of CO2 from geological storage presents a very low risk to climate, environment and human health. Research results show that the impacts of any CO2 leakage on land or at the seabed will be localised and very unlikely to cause significant harm to ecosystems and communities. Should CO2move towards the surface, interventions can be made to control, minimise and prevent leakage.
– Tackling CO2 emissions from power generation and key industries is critical to delivering climate change mitigation in line with the UNFCCC’s objectives. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds, with high confidence, that attempting to limit global warming to below 2˚C without CCS is unachievable.
– Full-chain CCS, which integrates CO2 capture, transport and storage technologies, is already being demonstrated at a growing number of facilities. The security of properly selected and regulated storage sites presents no barrier to its further deployment and enables its important contribution to climate change mitigation. We urge you to reflect this position in the content and outcome of your forthcoming talks in Paris this December.
Dr Maxine Akhurst, Geologist, British Geological Survey, UK
Dr Richard Bates, Senior Lecturer in Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of St Andrews, UK
Professor Sally Benson, Director, Global Climate and Energy Project, Stanford University, USA
Professor Martin Blunt, Professor of Petroleum Engineering, Imperial College London, UK
Professor Andrew Chadwick, Individual Merit Research Scientist, British Geological Survey, UK
Dr Byoung-Young Choi, Senior Researcher, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Republic of Korea
Professor Peter Cook, Peter Cook Centre for CCS Research, University of Melbourne, Australia
Dr Isabelle Czernichowski-Lauriol, CO2GeoNet President Emeritus, BRGM, France
Dr Florian Doster, Assistant Professor, Heriot-Watt University, UK
Dr Stuart Gilfillan, Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Edinburgh, UK
Professor Jon Gluyas, Professor in CCS & Geo-Energy, Durham University, UK
Dr William Gunter, Distinguished Scientist, Alberta Research Council, Canada
Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage, University of Edinburgh, UK
Dr Susan Hovorka, Senior Research Scientist, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Professor Ruben Juanes, Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
Dr John Kaldi, Chief Scientist CO2CRC, University of Adelaide, Australia
Professor Joao Marcelo Ketzer, Director, Institute of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Dr Dirk Kirste, Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Canada
Dr Jun Kita, Senior Researcher, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, Japan
Professor Anna Korre, Professor of Environmental Engineering, Imperial College, UK
Professor Xiaochun Li, Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, People’s Republic of China
Mr Xiaolong Li, CO2 Storage Demonstration Project Lead, UK-China (Guangdong) CCUS Centre, People’s Republic of China
Professor Knut-Andreas Lie, Chief Scientist, SINTEF ICT, Oslo, Norway
Professor Eric Mackay, Foundation CMG Chair in Reactive Flow Simulation, Heriot-Watt University, UK
Dr Juerg Matter, Associate Professor in Geoengineering, National Oceanographic Centre, University of Southampton, UK
Professor Bernhard Mayer, Professor of Isotope Geochemistry, University of Calgary, Canada
Dr Tip Meckel, Research Scientist, Gulf Coast Carbon Center, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Professor Jan Martin Nordbotten, VISTA Professor, University of Bergen, Norway
Dr Gheorghe Oaie, General Director, National Institute for Marine Geology and Geoecology – GeoEcoMar, Romania
Dr Ernest Perkins, Principal Scientist (Storage), Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, Canada
Mr Sergio Persoglia, CO2GeoNet General Secretary, OGS, Italy
Dr Gillian Pickup, Assistant Professor, Heriot-Watt University, UK
Dr Matthias Raab, Chief Operating Officer, CO2CRC, Melbourne, Australia
Professor Fedora Quattrocchi, Energy and GeoResources, National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, Rome, Italy
Dr Katherine Romanak, Research Scientist, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Professor Bruno Saftić, Associate Professor, University of Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
Professor Toru Sato, Department of Ocean Technology, Policy, and Environment, University of Tokyo, Japan
Dr Constantin Stefan Sava, President, European Network for Research in Geo-Energy – EneRG; President, CO2 Club Association, Romania
Dr Kiminori Shitashima, Associate Professor, CO2 Storage Research Division, International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research, Kyushu University, Japan
Dr David Vega-Maza, Senior Lecturer and CCS Champion, University of Aberdeen, UK
Dr Maxwell Watson, Project Development Manager, CO2CRC, Australia
Dr Ton Wildenborg, CO2GeoNet President, TNO, The Netherlands
Professor Di Zhou, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, People’s Republic of China
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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