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22nd Feb 2024

COP28 warned over-relying on carbon capture costs €27 trillion

  • At present no technology has proven capable of sequestering carbon to the level needed to prevent even more global warming (Photo: Johannes Plenio)
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This year's climate summit in Dubai (COP28) is focussing heavily on carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is both the COP president and boss of United Arab Emirates oil giant ADNOC, has been promoting carbon capture as a climate solution.

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And major oil and gas-producing countries are expected to unveil shared carbon storage goals.

"If we are serious about curbing industrial emissions," Al Jaber said earlier this year when promoting the technology, "we need to get serious about carbon capture technologies."

The technology has been heavily criticised, however. International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol delivered a scathing assessment of CCS heavy pathways as "pure fantasy" last week.

And new research published on Monday (4 December) by Oxford University's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment found that heavy reliance on CCS to reach net-zero targets would be "hugely economically damaging", costing at least $30 trillion [€27 trillion] more than decarbonisation based on renewable energy would.

The Oxford researchers made estimates for two different sets of pathways to net zero in 2050 — one that uses CCS to mitigate about one-tenth of today's emissions and the other that uses it to mitigate about half of today's emissions.

Although the technology still needs scaling up to meet the low-pathway demands, the researchers say it should only be used for specific-use cases, limited to the production of hard-to abate sectors — such as cement.

Using CCS to facilitate ongoing fossil-fuel burning as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have proposed would "be highly economically damaging," the report notes, adding that $30 trillion in additional cost by 2050 is almost certainly an underestimate of the real cost difference.

CCS technology has been around since the 1970s and is used primarily for extracting more oil. The reasons 80 percent of all CCS projects have failed so far are both technological, and botched economics.

The cost for CCS has not declined anywhere close to as much as solar and wind power costs have. And at present no technology has proven capable of sequestering carbon to the level needed to prevent even more global warming.

But calls for restraint of over-relying on carbon capture are unlikely to find support at this year's UN climate summit.

CCS is fundamental to the UAE's ambitions to become a major hub for producing and trading blue hydrogen and blue ammonia.

It is different from the 'grey hydrogen' currently used in industrial processes in that the resulting CO2 is transferred and injected into the underground reservoirs in Al Reyadah, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)'s carbon capture and storage plant near Abu Dhabi.

But recent research by Global Witness shows that in 2030 alone, when ADNOC says it will capture 10 million tonnes of carbon, the company will also produce 492 million tonnes, catching just two percent.

'Unabated code' for CCS

Meanwhile, Al Jaber recently told Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group and a former UN special envoy for climate change in a testy exchange that there was "no science" to show that phasing-out fossil fuel burning will fix the climate.

Instead, other leaders, including EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra, have talked about building "an energy system free of all unabated fossil fuels."

The term "unabated" has become a reference point in climate negotiations since the climate summit in Glasgow two years ago and serves as a qualifier to suggest fossil fuel burning can be made 'clean' through CCS.

"Unabated cannot become a sort of loophole for countries to hide behind," Tom Evans, a policy advisor at energy think tank E3G, previously told EUobserver. "CCS will not be a major technology that will allow us to keep polluting."

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