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Governance of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS): accounting, rewarding, and the Paris agreement

Asbjørn Torvanger

Climate Policy, 2019, vol. 19, issue 3, 329-341

Abstract: Studies show that the ‘well below 2°C’ target from the Paris Agreement will be hard to meet without large negative emissions from mid-century onwards, which means removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing the carbon dioxide in biomass, soil, suitable geological formations, deep ocean sediments, or chemically bound to certain minerals. Biomass energy combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is the negative emission technology (NET) given most attention in a number of integrated assessment model studies and in the latest IPCC reports. However, less attention has been given to governance aspects of NETs. This study aims to identify pragmatic ways forward for BECCS, through synthesizing the literature relevant to accounting and rewarding BECCS, and its relation to the Paris Agreement. BECCS is divided into its two elements: biomass and CCS. Calculating net negative emissions requires accounting for sustainability and resource use related to biomass energy production, processing and use, and interactions with the global carbon cycle. Accounting for the CCS element of BECCS foremost relates to the carbon dioxide capture rate and safe underground storage. Rewarding BECCS as a NET depends on the efficiency of biomass production, transport and processing for energy use, global carbon cycle feedbacks, and safe storage of carbon dioxide, which together determine net carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Sustainable biomass production is essential, especially with regard to trade-offs with competing land use. Negative emissions have an added value compared to avoided emissions, which should be reflected in the price of negative emission ‘credits’, but must be discounted due to global carbon cycle feedbacks. BECCS development will depend on linkages to carbon trading mechanisms and biomass trading.Key policy insights A standardized framework for sustainable biomass should be adopted.Countries should agree on a standardized framework for accounting and rewarding BECCS and other negative emission technologies.Early government support is indispensable to enable BECCS development, scale-up and business engagement.BECCS projects should be designed to maximize learning across various applications and across other NETs.BECCS development should be aligned with modalities of the Paris Agreement and market mechanisms.

Date: 2019
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