Irena chief resists UAE project

The head of the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) yesterday challenged a UAE-backed proposal to use UN funding to support the capturing and burying of carbon pollution. The so-called carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) projects have been hailed by Opec countries, coal firms and many experts as necessary in the effort to cut global carbon emissions, but environmental groups and others say they are not feasible in the short term.

Hélène Pelosse, the director-general of Irena, is in the latter group. She has urged climate-change negotiators meeting this week to block efforts to classify CCS and nuclear power as clean-energy methods under the UN-led funding programme known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). "The Clean Development Mechanism is not called clean out of any reason," she said in a statement. "Only 100 per cent renewable energy is clean."

CCS technology "is nothing but a Fata Morgana, technically feasible on a larger scale not before 2020", she said, referring to an Italian legend symbolising a mirage. There is an additional motivation for those who back CCS. The Clean Development Mechanism allows firms in developing countries to sell credits to their counterparts in industrialised nations for every ton of carbon they keep out of the atmosphere. The richer firms buy the credits to help meet emission limits set by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. If CCS were brought under that umbrella, it would provide a welcome source of revenue to countries that pursue it.

The UAE, which plans to invest billions of dollars in carbon-capture projects through Masdar, the Abu Dhabi clean energy company, has lobbied heavily to include CCS technology in the financing framework of a new treaty to replace Kyoto, which expires in 2012. Such a change, officials say, would help make the technology viable on a commercial scale. The UAE is also expected to invest billions of dollars to build nuclear power plants to increase the proportion of electricity generated by low-carbon sources.

Sam Nader, the director of Masdar's carbon-management unit, confirmed yesterday that the company had not changed its position on CCS and would push to make funding available for the technology at the climate-change talks in December. "We'll be lobbying for it, as part of the UAE delegation to the Copenhagen talks," he said. Masdar expects carbon-credit sales to make up a large portion of the company's revenues.

The bid to include CCS in the carbon market has met with strong support from other oil producers and coal companies, which say the technology will allow the world to continue burning fossil fuels without harming the environment. Ms Pelosse issued her statement in response to a recommendation by the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based group of energy consuming countries, that CCS and nuclear projects be included in the CDM.

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