Carbon emissions trading is a market-driven means to reduce and control pollution by providing economic incentives. It’s often referred to as cap and trade, because the idea is for the government to set a limit, and then companies are required to meet that limit either by reducing emissions or purchasing credits from others in order not to exceed the cap. There are active trading programs underway right now, with the largest market in the European Union, and there’s talk from the Obama administration to pass such a scheme in the United States by the end of the year.
Energy producers will be among the highest taxed because of their large carbon output. This tax will provide an incentive for cleaner power generation, and will require closer monitoring of emissions and efficiency in power production and transmission.
Carbon Capture and Storage
There are ongoing efforts to develop technology to capture carbon as it is emitted from smokestacks and other sources and to store that carbon for the long term. By sequestering carbon close to the power generation site, energy producers can reduce their carbon output, and their tax burden. Carbon storage or sequestration is typically accomplished using geological formations such as coal seams or depleted oil reserves as reservoirs to hold carbon emissions that are pumped underground. There are a large number of such projects worldwide, and ongoing research into the efficacy of this solution.
Carbon sequestration requires detailed knowledge of geological formations. The knowledge of where to store carbon is a geospatial problem, and the monitoring of the storage facilities requires a sensor and location-based approach. Researchers at MIT have developed a Carbon Management Geographic Information System in order to take a detailed systems-based approach to understanding the cost-effectiveness of storage and overall efficiency of competing options.
Mapping and Monitoring
The creation of carbon cap and trade taxation will require a close monitoring of power plant emissions. Geospatial technologies are ideally suited to bring together disparate data such as the location of power plants, industrial sites, potential storage sites, and infrastructure along with socioeconomic data in order to perform in-depth analysis that provides transparency into the taxation and trading process.
The issue of carbon emissions is a complex problem that requires detailed measurement and analysis. The geospatial toolset will play a large role in assessing pollution sources and sinks in order to apply equitable and fair measures for this emerging market. The global carbon trading market has been doubling in size every year, with more than $40 billion carbon-dioxide permits traded this year. This puts the market on pace to be a $200 billion market by 2010, and the geospatial community can profit greatly by providing needed services.
There are many critics of carbon trading, and most fault difficulties related to: assessing pollution levels, ongoing monitoring, enforcement, and the overall complexity of the system. Geospatial technologies are ideally suited to each of these four issues, providing a credible and science-based means for assessment, monitoring and enforcement, and lending some transparency to help reduce the complexity of the systems.