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Carbon capture and storage not a ‘miracle’ climate cure

'National emissions trading systems are essential to create a global carbon price,' said the European Energy Exchange Pixabay/Pexels
'National emissions trading systems are essential to create a global carbon price,' said the European Energy Exchange
  • Study questions use of CCS
  • $20bn invested in technology
  • Phasing out fossil fuels is ‘crucial’

A new study has strongly criticised fossil fuel-producing states for incorporating carbon capture and storage (CCS) in their climate strategies, claiming the technology is being used to extend the shelf life of oil companies rather than as a climate action tool.

As Cop28 kicked off in Dubai, analysis by US-based non-profit environmentalist organisation Oil Change International revealed that global oil producers have been using CCS primarily to “expand fossil fuel extraction”.

The report said governments across the globe have invested more than $20 billion in CCS over the past 50 years, with plans for an additional $200 billion, despite the technology primarily being used for enhanced oil recovery.

Enhanced oil recovery processes increase the ability of oil to flow to a well by injecting water, chemicals or gases into the reservoir.

The study said 79 percent of the world’s CCS operating capacity sends captured CO2 to produce more oil via enhanced oil recovery.

The finding is significant as Cop28 focuses on fossil fuel phase-out and intensifying renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts.

“Technologies like CCS, in particular, are being described as miracle technologies,” Romain Ioualalen, global policy campaign manager at Oil Change International, told AGBI.

“The fossil fuel industry says ‘if we capture the emissions, we don’t have to reduce production’. We’re saying that’s not true.

“The reality is that the majority of all CCS facilities in the world inject the carbon that’s captured into the soil to increase oil production.”

Carbon capture a ‘distraction’

With a fossil fuel phase-out at the top of the agenda for the first time, Ioualalen said it will be critical to ensure “poorly defined abatement technologies” being promoted by industry and government enablers will not be included in any final Cop28 agreements.

“We don’t want to see the word ‘unabated’ in there,” he said. 

“Unabated reflects the push for that technology to be legitimised. We think it’s dangerous because it casts doubts about the speed and the scale of the transition that’s needed to limit warming to 1.5C.”

Ioualalen predicted that CCS will be “framed as essential” in the talks but said it was simply among the “festival of distractions of side initiatives [and] technologies being promoted as miracle solutions for the climate crisis”.

“It’s not a substitute to a full and fair phase out of all fossil fuel,” he said.

“The success of Cop28 will be judged, from our point of view, on whether it delivers a decision on the phase out of fossil fuels,” said Ioualalen. “Unless we take measures very urgently to phase out fossil fuels, we are going to continue creating climate chaos, and loss and damage around the world.”

Canada-based Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, backed up the conclusions in the report by the Oil Change International conclusion, adding that fossil fuel producers’ argument in relation to carbon capture and storage is “a ruse” and that such projects have been under delivering, in some cases between 80-90 percent from what the industry has been projecting.

“Every country, including the UAE, knows that we’re going to be using less oil in the future. But they all want to be the last barrel sold,” she said.

“We can no longer allow carbon capture and storage to be used as a fallacy, as a promise that they don’t need to ensure absolute emissions and production decline.”

At the opening of the conference Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber encouraged environmental lobbyists to work with the hydrocarbon industry to reach consensus.

“It is essential that no issue is left off the table … that includes the role of fossil fuels,” Al Jaber said. “We have the power to do something unprecedented. I ask you to work together.”

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