Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Creating Trust and Transparency in Fossil CO2 Emissions Reporting

by Jocelyn Turnbull, Senior Scientist, GNS Science
Marcus Trimble and Margaret Norris using the GNS Science high-tech grass sampling method near the Kapuni plant in Taranaki. A GPS, a plastic bag and a marker pen are all that is required. And perhaps a pair of gumboots! Photo credit: Jocelyn Turnbull, GNS Science.
Last year, I wrote about how we can use atmospheric measurements to determine whether nations and industries are meeting their fossil fuel CO2 emission reduction goals. With the Paris Agreement, the stakes have gotten higher, with most nations agreeing to reduce their emissions, and a recognized need for “trust and transparency” amongst nations in emissions reporting.
This week, GNS Science published a new research paper taking the concepts I talked about in my previous post, and turning them into a specific method that evaluates emissions from individual power plants to better than 10% accuracy. This is key because power plants are the biggest emission sources (the huge Taichung coal-fired power plant in Taiwan produces more fossil fuel CO2 than all of New Zealand!). This makes them an obvious target for regulating and reducing emissions. 
In the past there have been considerable barriers to measuring emissions rates from power plants. Radiocarbon measurements that need to be used in this process are time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, the atmospheric models used to translate fossil CO2 concentration measurements to emission rates from the power plant are most accurate when averaged over long time periods.
To remove these barriers, the scientists at GNS came up with the idea of using living grass as sample collectors. There is no special field sampling equipment required, and grass effectively collects a radiocarbon sample averaged over the many days it grows. A single grass measurement tracks a week or so of emissions and is a perfect complement to the optimal model averaging period. These innovations allow us to measure the power plant emission rate to 10% accuracy. This is a marked improvement over the ~20% reported by individual power plants (based on their methods). That ~20% also doesn't take into account any bias in the plants' self-reporting. 
Grass growing in farmland near the Vector Kapuni plant in Taranaki makes an ideal sampler for fossil CO2 emissions. Photo credit: Jocelyn Turnbull, GNS Science.
This simple and low-cost method was developed using the Kapuni processing plant in Taranaki as a test case and can be readily applied around the world. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

"Climate Cheats II": The Return of New Zealand’s ERU Controversy

by Catherine Leining, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research

In the tradition of dramatic sequels, the Morgan Foundation has just released "Climate Cheats II," this time with a focus on the 'dirty dozen' NZ ETS participants who used the most 'hot air' Emission Reduction Units (ERUs).[1]

The issue at the heart of both “Climate Cheats” reports is vitally important: New Zealand must safeguard the integrity of its contribution to climate change mitigation and the operation of the NZ ETS. The environmental, economic and reputational consequences of doing otherwise would be severe. The past choices made by the New Zealand government and NZ ETS participants followed the letter of the law internationally and domestically but not the spirit of the quest for a stable climate system. Importantly, those choices have a troubling legacy in the form of surplus Kyoto units of questionable integrity and international status, and a large participant-held bank of NZUs.

I have three key points in response to "Climate Cheats II." 

1. New Zealand didn’t cheat, but the climate got cheated by a global agreement with weak targets.