Is the West Impeding Developing Economies Through Climate Change Mitigation?, By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu
…on the part of the public, there seems to be so much concerns about the effectiveness of the technology. Due to these concerns, while scientists continue to explore research to improve understanding of the technology, they are also advancing public awareness by arguing that it is environmentally benign.
It is important to state that there are at least three stakeholders in the discourse on climate change mitigation. Each of these stakeholders may have different views with regard to the phenomenon in itself; as a corollary of industrial carbon dioxide emissions. The three stakeholders are governments, companies and the people. Governments all over the world seem to agree that the threat of climate change is real, and that it has been caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is a consequence of man-made activities since the start of the industrial revolution. This is a fact that even climate change deniers, who could mostly be businessmen, may accept within their inner selves, even though their drive to make more money at the expense of the planet may be a motivation for feigning ignorance of this.
Due to the facts involved, governments have agreed to ensure that mechanisms are in place to fight climate change. This is where carbon capture and storage technology come in, at the interface between fossil fuels and renewable energy. Since the world cannot dramatically replace its energy producing technologies all at once, scientists have decided that while we are in transit from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we can still produce the energy we need from the fossil fuels, albeit in a clean way. Existing heavy industries that are the large-scale carbon dioxide emitters can now be retrofitted with carbon capture facilities to prevent emissions into the atmosphere. As an alternative, instead of emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it can be safely stored in rocks beneath the ground.
On the part of the industries emitting carbon dioxide, it is true that these businesses are driven, first, by profit, before sensitivity to the planet and people. Within this purview, governments are forcing businesses to pay tax for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. But since such enforcements will cost businesses a fortune, it makes more sense for them to deploy carbon dioxide storage technology, as a way of evading carbon taxes in the countries in which they operate. The Sleipner and Snøhvit carbon dioxide storage projects in the North Sea are two examples of how companies can evade tax by their readiness to store carbon dioxide underground. But some businesses that derive profit from deploying carbon dioxide storage may not need government enforcements, since there is an existing incentive for doing this. As opposed to emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, oil and gas companies, for instance, use a technology called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). EOR is used to ensure the maximum recovery of hydrocarbons from producing wells. In this way, the carbon dioxide is used for sweeping oil in reservoirs (through injection wells under high pressures for recovery from producing wells) that could have been abandoned if the EOR technology was not in place. Thus, without EOR, a company involved in exploration and production may have to stop producing hydrocarbons from an oilfield, even though there is still some economically significant amount of oil left in that reservoir. In essence, companies that want to maximise profit are adopting EOR for their operations, which means that they are at the same time mitigating climate change; a case of killing two birds with one stone. An example of these type of projects are the Weyburn–Midale, the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, and the Boundary Dam carbon dioxide storage projects in Canada.
We may wonder why the West wants us to discontinue the use of coal to meet our energy needs, even though they (the West) have not discontinued the use of theirs. While these are legitimate concerns, nevertheless, we can always utilise coal without creating much debate around our intents if we can install carbon dioxide storage technology.
How about public perception on carbon dioxide storage? While all these are happening, public perception cannot be neglected. There was the case of a farmer in Canada who claimed that stored carbon dioxide had leaked into earthen ponds in his farm, leading to his fish dying. Given that it is not impossible for carbon to leak back to the surface after storage, the farmer was able to make claims on leakage since any dissolution of leaked carbon dioxide in water would acidify the water and affect aquatic life negatively. Although that incident created controversies in the media, nonetheless, scientific investigation showed that there was no carbon dioxide leakage in that farm. So, on the part of the public, there seems to be so much concerns about the effectiveness of the technology. Due to these concerns, while scientists continue to explore research to improve understanding of the technology, they are also advancing public awareness by arguing that it is environmentally benign.
Therefore, it may not be a correct line of thought to assume that the West may be discouraging developing economies when it advocates for the decarbonisation of the global economy. It is that since the world has largely agreed to move towards decarbonisation, in the same breath, it feels morally unreasonable for the West to encourage all countries (developed or developing) to build new fossil fuel utilising industries which are by implication large-scale carbon dioxide emitters. We may wonder why the West wants us to discontinue the use of coal to meet our energy needs, even though they (the West) have not discontinued the use of theirs. While these are legitimate concerns, nevertheless, we can always utilise coal without creating much debate around our intents if we can install carbon dioxide storage technology.
But there is one more challenge – cost. Carbon dioxide storage is expensive, and the West is equally finding it challenging to deploy the technology on the basis of cost considerations. The United Kingdom is a world leader in carbon capture and storage research, yet there is not a single practice of the technology in that country, even at the pilot scale. While they have earlier proposed the White Rose and Peterhead projects, it seems that the U.K. government is unwilling to spend £1 billion to get them started. The advocates for technology deployment hope that the U.K. will be able to implement it by the mid-2020s. Besides, is it not thought-provoking that although the industrial revolution started in the U.K. and that was responsible for climate change today, yet the country takes a back seat in the practical efforts for the mitigation of climate change?
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote from Yola, Nigeria.