CO2 storage has become an indispensable part of climate policy

CO2 storage has become an indispensable part of climate policy

On 17 February 2021, Follow the Money delivered a solid piece on the lobby of oil companies for CO2 storage, disguised as enthusiasm for hydrogen. That was, of course, oil on the fire of the already blazing resistance to CCS.

Follow the Money’s piece was sent to me by a number of people, sometimes with a request for a response. As readers who regularly come back to WattisDuurzaam know, I have also marvelled at the great enthusiasm for (green) hydrogen in recent years.

I too have not escaped the great overlap between parties advocating green hydrogen and parties advocating co2 storage. How it got to the point where the Netherlands has unrealistic leader dreams in the field of green hydrogen I leave to the historians. Bashing shell and co I leave to the parties that specialize in this.

We really can no longer do without CO2 storage

What I do want to confirm (again) in response to the Follow the Money piece is that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has become an indispensable part of climate policy. It might have been possible to control global warming without CCS, but then we should have bet much earlier and much more seriously on CO2 reduction.

For years, environmental organisations and political parties, which have been arguing for a sharp fall in our consumption of fossil fuels on the basis of scientific arguments, have rightly argued that the use of CO2 storage distracts from precisely that objective.

Investing in CO2 storage in 1990 made no sense. Back then, we should have invested in decently insulated homes, large-scale construction of nuclear power plants and robust policies to make cars more fuel efficient. Investing in CO2 storage in 1995 made no sense. At the time, we should have invested in decent agricultural policy, large-scale construction of wind farms and robust policies to slow down the growth of aviation. Investing in CO2 storage in 2000 made no sense. At the time, we should have invested in the future-proof steel industry, large-scale closure of coal-fired power stations and robust policies to make CO2 emissions economically unattractive in the rest of society.

The choice that remains is when we start storing the excess CO2

It has been known for decades that CO2 emissions are a problem. In Europe and North America in particular, we should have started a steep decline in the consumption of fossil fuels before 2000. That didn’t happen. Europeans and Americans have not acted on what science has been doing all along. As a result, we did not focus in time on upscaling up wind and solar energy, nuclear energy, electric driving, insulation and all other sub-solutions that reduce CO2 emissions together. As a result, these technologies became competitive with coal, natural gas and oil much later.

As a result, Europe and North America have brought an unacceptable volume of CO2 into the atmosphere for 20 years since 2000. As a result, a large part of the remaining ‘carbon budget’ has been used up. As a result, growth economies in Asia and South America have followed our example and their prosperity has also built up entirely around fossil sources.

As a result, annual CO2 emissions have not fallen sharply since 2000, but have increased by about 40% worldwide. As a result, the chances of us being able to keep climate change manageable without CO2 storage have been completely lost. It is now certain that negative emissions (extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground) must be part of our approach to controlling climate change. The question that remains is in what volumes negative emissions will be needed.

The choice now before us is when we put the CO2 underground. Are we doing this now that the greenhouse gas is being released fairly concentrated among large industrial consumers of coal, oil and natural gas? Or will we do so by the end of this century if we have to pluck the CO2 from the atmosphere as scattered loose particles? The latter option is significantly more energy-intensive, significantly more costly and significantly more uncertain.

Subsidy for CCS is now desirable, but it remains wary

For environmental organisations and green parties, it is time to accept that CO2 storage in industry – which they have fought against for many years – has now become indispensable. It is painful that the oil and gas companies that have lobbied for decades to keep climate policy ineffective are now receiving subsidies for the storage of their own fossil CO2 emissions. However, CO2 storage is now better than no CO2 storage. Without a subsidy, the industry really does not invest in CO2 storage. So a subsidy for CO2 storage is desirable. It’s become desirable.

The wind turbines, electric cars, railway lines and insulation materials needed for the clean economy of the future are produced from today’s fossil fuel economy. CO2 emissions at steel, cement and insulation plants will be unavoidable for decades to come. This CO2 that is released while we are investing in the future is now catching and storing now is really better than trying to extract that same CO2 from the atmosphere around 2070.

At the same time, it remains necessary to take a close look at which parties are advocating for CO2 storage. As in 1990, 1995 and 2000, a plea for CO2 storage can still be a diversion. A lobby to stretch the shelf life of fossil revenue models. As an environmental movement, try to be fierce on CO2 storage as usual, which means a de facto postponement of more effective climate policy. At the same time, it is competing for CO2 storage that is in line with net zero CO2 emissions by the middle of this century. It’s not easy to make that switch. It’s not easy to emphasize that nuance. Still, it’s going to have to be. The environmental movement knows better than anyone how bad it is if parties with influence over policymakers ignore climate science.

Climate science now advocates CCS.

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