Relying too much on carbon capture and storage to absorb fossil fuel emissions is a risky bet considering the industry’s current track record, warns think tank Climate Analytics.
Relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS), combined with an underperformance in CCS technologies, could lead to excess greenhouse gas emissions of 86 billion tonnes between 2020 and 2050 – pushing the 1.5°C temperature limit out of reach, the organisation says in a report released today.
It comes as the latest draft of the global stocktake currently being negotiated in Dubai makes no mention of limitations for the use of carbon capture technologies – a lack of specificity that is worrying climate experts.
Climate Analytics calculated the 86 billion tonne “carbon bomb” by estimating additional emissions if CO2 capture rates were reduced from an optimistic level of 95% to the level seen in plants operating today, around 50%. (Chevron, for example, has been trying to capture and bury 80% of the carbon released at its Gorgon gas export plant in Australia since 2019, but has repeatedly failed to meet this target.)
Large-scale carbon capture seen as too expensive
The report revisits analyses by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and academic researchers to show that meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement will require immediate reductions in fossil fuel supply and use – whether abated or unabated.
“In fact, each iteration of the IEA’s net zero emissions (NZE) scenario has relied on successively less CCS, with the 2023 version using 38% less CCS than the 2021 version,” note the authors, adding that a “high-CCS pathway” would cost US$1 trillion more than other pathways involving more fossil fuel cuts.
‘A trojan horse’ for the fossil fuel industry
“The term ‘abated’ is being used as a trojan horse to allow fossil fuels with dismal capture rates to count as climate action. ‘Abated’ may sound like harmless jargon, but it’s actually language deliberately engineered and heavily promoted by the oil and gas industry to create the illusion we can keep expanding fossil fuels," said report author Claire Fyson of Climate Analytics.
Ahead of COP28, Melanie Robinson, Global Climate Programme Director at the World Resources Institute (WRI), made similar comments, saying “there's no credible scenario where CCS would allow the continued significant and widespread use of fossil fuels” and calling for the COP28 outcome to acknowledge the limited role CCS can play.