Leaders of the business community have been left confounded by Australia's Labour Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new Global Institute on Carbon Capture and Storage.
Even though some of them attended a half an hour long PowerPoint presentation from the Australian prime minister a week ago, they are still in the dark about what it will do. Rudd says that his initiative will form the "cornerstone" of his address to the United Nations (UN) a day from now.
A small gathering of nine selected business leaders were briefed in secret about the initiative on 12 September, with most of them totally in the dark about the Australian Prime Minister's plans till they arrived for the round-table meeting with Rudd and resources minister Martin Ferguson.
The prime minister's office and business consulting company Boston Consulting (BCG) group have been hard at work on the scheme for about three months. Rudd outlined the idea as Australia setting up the world's best or leading institute for clean coal technology, diversely referred to in his presentation as a "clearing house" and a "hub".
Some business leaders also question the involvement of consulting company BCG in drawing up the plan, and lobbying for it in foreign countries. Rudd's PowerPoint presentation draws heavily from BCG's report.
The Australian prime minister's office, on the other hand, defends the consulting firm's involvement saying that BCG was "employed by the department of resources, energy and tourism to develop a business model for the institute and assist the consultation on the initiative".
Presently, no commercial scale project anywhere in the world captures carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations, and then successfully stores it underground. The International Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that carbon capture and storage (CCS) could achieve up to 20 per cent of necessary global greenhouse emissions reductions by 2020.
The G8 had vowed two months ago in July that it would get 20 such plants up and running by 2020.
The Australian Government thinks it would be in the best interest of the environment, as well as the country's future as a global coal exporter for this goal to bear fruit. However, business leaders, though generally supportive of efforts to advance CCS, say that the initiative appeared to have been announced prematurely, evidenced by the fact that despite the presentation, most of them still have no real idea on how it would work, or what it would do.
Rudd would be calling upon foreign leaders on his meeting schedule during his visit to New York this week to pitch in to the initiative. So far, there are no reports of any support for the initiative.
A spokesman for Rudd said that international negotiations had started, though no financial commitments have been sought at this stage. He said that future contributions to a research fund ''may be sought".
Nothing is clear at the moment, not even the location of the institute where it would house its 20-odd staff, or the name of the person who would head it. Details about how the initiative works with existing global efforts such as the US-inspired Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum and the new Australian Low Emissions Coal Council are also foggy at best.
Rudd has promised $100 million a year to the new institute, with significant extra funding for the Australian projects themselves.
Ahead of his address to the United Nations, Prime Minister Rudd defended clean coal technology. He said that Australia's new $100 million carbon capture and storage (CCS) research institute would be good for the world, addressing the Australian parliament, deeming the project as a ''global public good'', while saying that ''the world needs to have a go-to place to access that (CCS) technology for at-scale projects".