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Implementing the EU’s CO2 Storage Directive: Challenges and Opportunities

By news editor, on 9 November 2011

Environmental lawyers, geologists and international policy makers were amongst the diverse participants attracted to a 7 November event hosted by the UCL Carbon Capture Legal Programme. The conference, entitled “Implementing the CO2 Storage Directive: Challenges and Opportunities”, explored how the European Union Directive on the Geological Storage of CO2 is being put in place. It also addressed public engagement issues around carbon capture and storage. Alexandra Malone, Research Assistant at UCL Laws, reports.

Not a climate change technology buff or an expert on the intricacies of EU law? Then here’s a quick primer on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the UCL Carbon Capture Legal Programme (CCLP).

Very briefly, CCS is a set of integrated technologies that can be used to prevent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from entering the atmosphere, making it a promising technology for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. CO2 is captured from large sources like power plants, compressed and transported to suitable storage sites, usually by pipeline, where it is injected into deep underground geological formations for safe and permanent storage.

One of the challenges in implementing CCS is putting in place the laws and regulations that enable the safe construction and operation of these projects, creating long-term certainty for the companies building them, and public confidence in CCS as a viable climate change mitigation technology. Recognising the importance of understanding and communicating the complexities of these rules, the UCL CCLP was established in 2007 as an open and independent resource for the analysis of the legal aspects of carbon capture and storage.

The most important legal development for CCS in Europe was the passing in 2009 of a European Union Directive on the Geological Storage of CO2, an overarching law that sets out what is required to carry out a CCS project. As with all other EU directives, member states must incorporate these requirements into their national laws.

Earlier this year, the CCLP embarked on the ‘EU Case Studies Project’ to better understand the implementation of the CCS Directive in select countries: Germany, Poland, Spain, Romania, the UK and Norway, each of which has different regulatory regimes for energy and environmental issues, and different attitudes towards CCS. The case study reports from each of the six countries were launched at the 1 November workshop.

In the morning session, chaired by Professor Richard Macrory of UCL Laws, the authors – environmental legal experts from the respective countries – presented their conclusions to an audience eager to hear recent developments. Among the authors was UCL CCLP Research Associate, Chiara Armeni.

For many participants it was a welcome opportunity to learn the details of the measures countries have taken to put the Directive into practice and challenges encountered along the way. Many of the issues presented were hot off the press and fuelled discussions in the Q&A sessions that went beyond purely legal matters to the political, social and economic implications of the Directive.

In the afternoon session, panellists spoke about public engagement, looking at real life examples and the role that law plays in ensuring the public is adequately involved in decision-making about individual CCS projects and about the use of CCS overall.

Throughout the day speakers were challenged by provocative comments from session chairs, fellow panellists and attendees, questioning the effectiveness of the Directive itself and the true purpose of public engagement depending on one’s vested interest. There was sometimes strong disagreement on the role of CCS: for example, whether it can be perceived as a “bridging technology”, and how it fits into the broader realm of actions needed to address climate change and energy security.

The conference was relevant to a wide range of players involved in CCS – from engineers to power companies to risk managers – all of whom have an interest in the way the law influences how CCS projects will be carried out. Its inclusive mix of participants went beyond the ‘usual suspects’, also bringing together a significant number of leading environmental lawyers and public participation specialists who, although not experts in CCS, were able to bring insights from the implementation of other EU directives and the introduction of other new technologies.

Although the intersection of CCS and the law may seem to some a niche area of interest, the development of effective legal frameworks for CCS is high on the climate change policy agenda here in Europe and elsewhere around the world. The findings of the CCLP’s six EU case study reports are highly relevant to this policy discussion and demonstrate the continuing impact that UCL research has on key issues of the day.

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