International climate negotiators have been debating whether to accept capturing CO2 from industrial installations and storing it underground (CCS) as a means of contributing to emission cuts. But they delayed any decisions until next year at the earliest, as no consensus was reached.
Some countries have proposed to add CCS to the UN-backed Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows companies in rich countries to fulfil part of their climate obligations by investing in emission reductions in developing countries.
But others "have registered concerns regarding the implications of this possible inclusion and highlighted a number of unresolved issues," read a draft paper from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The text invited the UNFCCC's scientific advisory body to investigate risk of seepage from storage sites and liability issues in the event of leakage. The group was tasked with reporting back to delegates at the next conference in Mexico in 2010 or in South Africa in 2011.
"In order for carbon dioxide capture and storage in geological formations to be included under the Clean Development Mechanism, long-term liability for the storage site, including liability for any seepage during and beyond the crediting period of the project, must be clearly assigned and the project boundary must be clearly defined," the UN text asserted.
Leading European investors in the technology include the UK, Germany and Norway. Meanwhile, the US invested $1.4 billion in 12 CCS projects as part of its economic stimulus package at the beginning of October. Earlier this month, the Americans announced that a further $979 million will be invested in three projects.
The EU last week approved €1 billion of economic recovery funding to support six demonstration projects (EurActiv 10/12/09).
The front-runners, including oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell, have been pushing for an agreement on CCS in Copenhagen.
"Today some of the world's biggest coal consuming nations have shown business as usual on coal won't do," said UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, speaking at an international forum on CCS in October. "We need technology co-operation for know-how and capacity building and a financing agreement at Copenhagen which can drive CCS forwards in developing countries."
But environmentalists are not keen on a technology whose effectiveness they say is still unproven, amid fears that it could divert attention from genuine low-carbon energy sources like renewables.