Region aims for greener future

The number of companies seeking certification to sell carbon credits on European markets has increased 12-fold.

Gathering steam: Yvo de Boer, the executive undersecretary of UNFCC, says carbon capture and storage has the potential to be a major economic boon to the oil-producing countries of the Middle East.
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ABU DHABI // A recent surge in local businesses aiming to profit from curbing air pollution shows that Middle Eastern countries are "waking up to the potential economic benefits of carbon emission reduction", the UN's chief diplomat for climate change says.

Yvo de Boer, the executive undersecretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that the number of companies seeking certification to sell carbon credits on European markets had increased by more than 12 times. Where there are six companies certified now, another 76 are in the pipeline, according to Point Carbon, a Norwegian consultancy. Twelve of these projects are in the UAE. "Countries in the region are really beginning to pick up on this," Mr de Boer said in an interview from Bonn, Germany. "There is a recognition that there is a potential economic advantage to becoming a low emissions economy."

The carbon credit market is a product of the Kyoto Protocol, which set limits for carbon emissions from developed countries. Under the so-called "cap and trade" system, companies in developed countries can buy "credits" from companies in developing countries that reduce their emissions. This way, developed nations can achieve the protocol's emission reduction targets while giving developing countries an incentive to reduce their own emissions without specific targets. A key component of gaining certification is that companies must prove that operational improvements to reduce emissions would not be economical without carbon credits. The protocol specifically excludes awarding credits for operational upgrades that may be environmentally friendly, but are commercially driven.

The largest producer of carbon credits in the Middle East right now is the Al Shaheen Oil Field Gas Recovery and Utilisation programme in Qatar. It is set to generate about 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide reductions by 2012, which is worth more than ?140 million (Dh771m) at current carbon credit prices. Mr de Boer said carbon capture and storage, a relatively new technology, had the potential to be a major economic boon to the oil producing countries of the Middle East. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is studying the feasibility of awarding carbon credits to companies that install the technology.

"It would potentially increase opportunities in oil producing countries enormously," Mr de Boer said. "But there are still a couple of concerns. It is not a proven technology on a large scale." He said it would be one of the key issues at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, where countries will discuss how countries can cut back their environmental impact in coming decades. The Gulf region is especially good for carbon capture and storage because of the prevalence of salt domes, which are lined with material that is highly impermeable. Still, there are questions about the possibility of long-term seepage of the stored carbon, and who will maintain them decades down the road.

"It's still an unproven methodology from an engineering and a scientific point of view," said Shezan Amiji, the founder of Ecoventures, an environmental consultancy. "The jury is still out on whether this technology will work, but if it can be proven to work on a large scale, this region will play a major role." The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) has set its sights on carbon capture and storage as a major opportunity to turn a profit on environmentally friendly technology.

Sam Nader, the director of Masdar's carbon management unit, said the company's CO2 capture and storage network was planning to begin engineering work on the first phase of the project in September and become operational by early 2013. The system will capture CO2 from power and industrial plants in Abu Dhabi and send it through pipelines to be injected into oil reservoirs. "CO2 is important for regional economies since it is integrated in their oil and gas sector," he said. "CO2 could be captured and injected in oil reservoirs for pressure maintenance and enhanced oil recovery. This constitutes a win-win scenario for both the environment and regional economies."

It is also working with Abu Dhabi Ports Company to develop ways to collect emissions from its planned Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone. Middle Eastern countries face some of the biggest difficulties in cutting down emissions because of their harsh climates and reliance on the oil and gas industry - but these challenges can be reversed with innovative thinking, Mr de Boer added. "This is not a war on oil, it's a war on emissions," he said. "The more incentives we can create to reduce CO2, the more likely it'll be possible to reduce the impact on the environment."