Papua New Guinea has opportunities in carbon capture says ecologist Tim Flannery


Papua New Guinea has opportunities in the emerging carbon capture techniques, climate change expert Professor Tim Flannery told the Business Advantage Papua New Guinea Investment Conference in Brisbane. He pointed to forests, soil and marine as potential commercial areas.

‘Sadly, we have come to an agreement very late on climate change,’ said Flannery.

‘We are now in a situation that we have emitted so much greenhouse gas that we will almost certainly cross the threshold that we are trying to avoid—unless we are gong to draw down enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

‘This is a separate matter from the deployment of clean energy and solar; that is going ahead very strongly now.

‘The use of natural gas is replacing more carbon heavy fuels such as diesel. That will all happen, I think because of economic forces and the global agreement.

‘Reforestation is one of the biological pathways.’

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‘There is a whole new area which will become increasingly important as time goes by which is how do we get some of the gas out of the air.

‘Do it at a profit, or at least do it in a way that is cost effective.’


Ecologist Tim Flannery says PNG has opportunities in carbon capture. Source: BAI

Flannery said there are two ways of sequestering carbon dioxide. Sequestration is a process by which carbon dioxide, considered to be the cause of global warming, is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

One technique uses biological pathways. ‘They are great because you use plants and photosynthesis is free.’

The other uses chemical pathways. ‘Both have their drawbacks and their opportunities.’

Flannery said reforestation is one of the biological pathways for capturing carbon.

‘Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands have, I think, a huge future in marine aquaculture.’

‘The opportunities in places like Papua New Guinea, where you have such rapid rates of plant growth, are very large indeed.

‘There are opportunities in soil carbon. The soil carbon store is about twice as large globally as the living carbon store that is in the forests.

‘So the opportunity to increase carbon in the soil—which gives you better productivity, better water retention, and so forth—is again very large.

‘It is a way to pay for the sequestration benefits.’


Kelp farming. Source: Tim Flannery

Flannery said the oceans also have enormous untapped potential.

‘Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands have, I think, a huge future in marine aquaculture.

‘It is one of the areas where you have such tremendous opportunities just by virtue of your coast line, by virtue of the living experience cultures have in managing marine resources and the enormous productivity of the areas around Papua New Guinea.’

Flannery said kelp farming could be an option for PNG.

‘It has enormous potential for sequestration simply because kelp grows so fast; it grows 30 to 60 times faster than land-based plants.

‘If you want to sequester the carbon in that kelp, the oceans a kilometre down are an ideal place to do it.

‘So if you have productive coastal environments near marine canyons and deep water such as Papua New Guinea has, the potential for kelp farming is great.

‘It is a mature industry. What it needs is to have a sequestration bolted on to the end of that. That will come.’

‘The aim is to sequester a gigaton, or a billion tonnes, of carbon per annum.’

Flannery said a 2012 study by the University of the South Pacific found that if nine per cent of the world’s oceans were covered in seaweed farms ‘we could draw down all of the CO2 that we currently emit and provide enough fish food and shellfish to feed a population of 10 billion with 200 kilograms of high quality protein a year.’

Flannery added that research to date suggests that large-scale kelp farming can be undertaken without damaging deep sea systems.

But he noted that the kelp farms would have to be ‘the size of about four and a half times Australia.’


Flannery said the aim is to sequester a gigaton, or a billion tonnes, of carbon per annum.

He pointed to silicon rocks as one method. They can be used to absorb carbon, by spreading them on beaches.

Methods are being devised to make carbon fibre ‘cost effectively’ from CO2, which will compete with steel and aluminium.

The carbon offsetting scheme for aviation will come into effect January 1, 2019.

‘This, I think, will open opportunities for PNG particularly in terms of carbon offsets or reforestation and for soil carbon.’

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