2nd Apr 2023


The fossil-fuel agenda behind EU's carbon-capture plans

  • A pilot plant in Germany. Carbon-capture and storage is a techno-fix promoted by big polluters that allows them to continue to pollute (Photo: Vattenfall)
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Despite droughts, floods, heatwaves and crop failure, the oil and gas industry is using sleight of hand to keep fossil fuels flowing.

A key example is the way the industry has influenced the European Commission's plans to certify "carbon removals", a proposal due to be presented on 30 November.

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Fossil-fuel giants' backing of the commission's plans for CO2 removals is based on the idea that we can keep extracting and burning fossil fuels as long as we 'remove carbon' at a later stage.

Industry is using the carbon removal agenda to get yet more support for failed carbon capture and utilisation (CCUS), which is a key component of the pie-in-the-sky carbon removal technologies being promoted by the commission.

But this is a deadly distraction from real climate action. CCUS is a techno-fix promoted by big polluters that allows them to continue to pollute, as long as they can somehow capture the CO2 they emit from fossil power stations or industrial manufacturing plants, and then transport and store it underground, or use it in other production processes.

However, the risks, failures, and problems — including the massive energy required to work, and the vast expense to taxpayers — of CCUS are enormous and numerous.

Quite simply, it is a failed technology that has been presented as a "future solution" for three decades now — and still does not exist at scale.

Relying on future carbon removals rather than urgent emissions cuts now is like approaching the edge of a waterfall and instead of changing course and backing away from the edge as fast as you can, trusting that an untested, unfinished platform that you hope is in construction will catch you halfway down.

A new report published by Corporate Europe Observatory in collaboration with nine other civil society groups urges the EU to reject the upcoming proposal on the certification of carbon removals on the basis that it is just another way for the oil and gas industry to keep fossil fuels flowing.

The deadly climate gamble examines the responses from fossil fuel companies such as Equinor, Eni, and Shell, and industry groups like Eurogas and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) to the European Commission's public consultations that paved the way for the upcoming proposal.

These groups successfully lobbied for massive support for CCUS, as seen in the communication for Sustainable Carbon Cycles which funnels vast amounts of public money into risky CCUS, provides more regulatory support for it, and gives a privileged seat to industry to set policy.

This is extremely concerning given the huge environmental, health, and climate risks and costs that come with CCUS.

Failed pilots, money burnt

To take just one example of how unviable this 'solution' is, the CCUS industry and associated infrastructure is estimated to need to be two to four times larger by 2050 than the current global oil industry.

And the total 28 CCUS facilities now operating globally have the capacity to capture just 0.1 percent of fossil fuel emissions.

A staggeringly low figure for something presented as a 'climate solution'; meanwhile 81 percent of that carbon currently captured is pumped into wells to produce harder to reach oil that would otherwise never have been burned.

The European Court of Auditors itself criticised the EU for channelling €424m into unsuccessful CCUS projects. Yet here is the commission planning to massively subsidise new CCUS infrastructure.

The commission's carbon removals plans also serve the fossil fuel industry agenda by subsidising the infrastructure network for the transport and storage of CO2, which will help lock us into more fossil fuel use for decades to come.

Industry is also relying on public funds for CCUS and CO2 infrastructure to push hydrogen fuel made with fossil gas, with the promise this fuel will be 'low carbon' if we hypothetically capture emissions used in making it — 'in the future' of course.

It is highly problematic that the commission has put industry in the policy driving seat, including through its Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage Forum, which will meet in Oslo at the end of October. Heavily-dominated by fossil fuel industry groups, the draft paper vision on CCUS that the forum is preparing for DG Energy is a veritable industry wish-list.

Oil and gas companies — and the EU decision-makers they're way too close to — insist that we need CCUS-based carbon removal technologies to get to 'net zero'.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report is clear that CO2 removal "cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions", and that only rapid emissions cuts before 2030 can prevent the catastrophic effects of overshooting 1.5ºC.

We need EU decision-makers to embrace a Fossil Free Politics firewalled from Big Polluters' lobby demands.

The Commission should rethink current carbon removal certification plans, not pour public funds into flawed CCUS and related infrastructure. And the EU needs to get serious about achieving 'Real Zero', with the urgent phase out of fossil fuels and the rapid scaling up of real and just renewable energy.

Author bio

Belén Balanyá is a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, a NGO which monitors corporate lobbying in Brussels.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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