An Issue of Permanence: Assessing the Effectiveness of Temporary Carbon Storage

Published: August 2003

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In this paper, we present a method to quantify the effectiveness of carbon mitigation options taking into account the `permanence’ of the emissions reduction. While the issue of permanence is most commonly associated with a `leaky’ carbon sequestration reservoir, we argue that this is an issue that applies to just about all carbon mitigation options. The appropriate formulation of this problem is to ask `what is the value of temporary storage?’ Valuing temporary storage can be represented as a familiar economic problem, with explicitly stated assumptions about carbon prices and the discount rate. To illustrate the methodology, we calculate the sequestration effectiveness for injecting CO2¬†at various depths in the ocean. Analysis is performed for three limiting carbon price assumptions: constant carbon prices (assumes constant marginal damages), carbon prices rise at the discount rate (assumes efficient allocation of a cumulative emissions cap without a backstop technology), and carbon prices first rise at the discount rate but become constant after a given time (assumes introduction of a backstop technology). Our results show that the value of relatively deep ocean carbon sequestration can be nearly equivalent to permanent sequestration if marginal damages (i.e., carbon prices) remain constant or if there is a backstop technology that caps the abatement cost in the not too distant future. On the other hand, if climate damages are such as to require a fixed cumulative emissions limit and there is no backstop, then a storage option with even very slow leakage has limited value relative to a permanent storage option.

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