Q&A with Graciela Chichilnisky


Economist, lead architect of the carbon market of the Kyoto Protocol, lead author of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Protocol on Climate Change (IPCC)

Graciela, among your many significant achievements, you created and wrote the Kyoto Protocol Carbon Market. What has been the impact of the Kyoto Protocol in the fight against climate change?

The impact of the carbon market of the Kyoto Protocol (EU ETS in Bonn), which I created and wrote — and that became international law in 2005 — can be measured from a few important World Bank statistics: by 2012 the EU emissions trading system (ETS) was trading $175 bn/year; the EU ETS has reduced CO2 emissions by 30% in the nations trading in the EU ETS, which are the OECD nations minus the USA; the EU ETS Carbon market has transferred in very few years to low income nations and for green projects, over $100 bn through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. This is just since 2005.

There are now similar carbon markets in China — a national market affecting 1.3 billion Chinese people; there are carbon markets in the USA (in California and in other Eastern US states); and, of course, the EU ETS in the EU and a number of other local markets. The effect of the carbon market is profound, and it reaches over 3 billion people across the globe.

The 2015 UN Paris Agreement has no national CO2emissions limits, thus weakening the effect of the UN carbon market globally, which is based on national limits to emit. I hope that this international situation changes soon.

Your company, Global Thermostat, created a revolutionary “Carbon Negative Technology”. How does this technology work?

Global Thermostat technology removes CO2 directly from ambient air or from the chimneys of power plants and industrial sources. It is very low cost because it requires little electricity, using mostly low temperature heat to power it, and it requires no transportation. We use a proprietary sorbent that has a natural affinity to CO2 to capture the CO2 within monoliths that offer the best low-cost absorption technology. Then, we separate the CO2 by using low temperature heat, producing 98.5% pure CO2 at record low costs. In turn, the CO2 can be sold profitably for desalinating water, producing biodegradable plastics and carbon fibers, beverages and food, bio fertilizers, and building materials, among other things.

I coinvented the technology with my co-founder at Global Thermostat, Peter Eisenberger, and obtained over 50 patents that are valid in 147 nations. We are now commercializing our carbon removal technology producing CO2 that is used and stored as needed for carbonated beverages and for materials.

How optimistic are you about the future of our planet?

I am optimistic about our ability to reverse and overcome climate change — indeed, this is what our company Global Thermostat was created to do, what it can do, and is already starting to do. On that side I am optimistic. However, I am not so optimistic about the timing: we are running out of time for solutions, since we have emitted too much CO2 and are near a “point of no return” in the atmosphere.

Humans can be slow to respond and adapt to change and very slow to adopt new technologies, and economics, as a discipline, is slow to adopt new technologies and to respond to new threats. We have the tools, but we may not have the time or the social organization needed to deploy them. It is very close. Indeed, it is now a “touch and go” situation.

To view a short film about Global Thermostat entitled “Carbon Negative”, produced by John Stember and Paul Atkins, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker for National Geographic, CLICK HERE.