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25th Feb 2024

EU doubles down on carbon capture in 2040 climate plans

  • Member states need to capture equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of Italy (Photo: Patrick Hendry)
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EU countries will need to capture vast amounts of greenhouse gas before it enters the atmosphere to reach the bloc's climate targets.

According to an EU Commission recommendation presented on Tuesday (6 February), member states must cut 90 percent of their emissions by 2040, which follows earlier advice from the EU scientific advisory board.

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The shift will be momentous and profoundly change how we drive, eat, heat our homes and generate energy.

On top of this, the commission suggests member states use so-called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies to annually prevent up to 400 million tonnes from reaching the atmosphere by 2040 — equivalent to the total emissions of Italy.

CCS is a process of sequestration where carbon dioxide emitted from large power plants or heavy industries is captured and stored before reaching the atmosphere.

To achieve 90 percent emissions reduction, the EU will need to "significantly scale up," carbon capture according to commission carbon removal plans also published on Tuesday.

However, "the potential storage capacities that are reported by member states only reach half of the CO2 storage demand," showing the need for "further economic incentives to identify and build more storage capacity," the commission says.

Globally, only 45 million tonnes of carbon is captured across 39 commercial capture facilities that are operational today, according to the most recent International Energy Agency (IEA) figures.

To speed things up, the commission aims to create an EU-wide "investment atlas of potential CO2 storage sites" to help investors find "bankable CO2 storage capacities."

One such project is Greensand in Denmark, which became operational in March 2023 and aims to store eight million tonnes of captured CO2 from Belgium in a depleted oil field in the Danish North Sea.

The ambitious role for carbon capture in the 2040 targets did not go unnoticed in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, where EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra presented the recommendations.

"Even the CCS lobby estimates only 300 million tonnes of CO2, so you are overshooting the CCS lobby. That is quite an achievement," said MEP and co-leader of the Greens Bas Eickhout.

Hoekstra himself has warned against over-reliance on carbon capture technologies in the past.

"Make no mistake, we cannot CCS ourselves out of the problem," he said at a press conference at the UN climate summit in Dubai last year, adding that carbon capture and storage could only be "a minor part of the solution space."

"Carbon capture and storage technologies will ultimately be needed to achieve net zero, but they will not be scaled quickly and come at a significant cost," said Frank Peter, director of the German think tank Agora Industry. "Our research shows that while CCS technologies are necessary in the industry and waste management sectors, they will have no role in the power sector [as proposed by the commission]."

It makes more sense to "accelerate the electrification of industrial heat" and "eliminate the use of fossil fuels and thus reduce the need for CCS," he added.

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