Carbon capture and storage, an emerging technology that reduces emissions from continuous operation of greenhouse gas emitting sources, has been used hard by fossil fuel and other high-pollution regions at COP28 to delay progress in phasing out fossil fuels and enable polluters to keep operations.
Data revealed by the Centre for Environmental Law shared exclusively with the Guardian, shows that COP28 organizers granted attendance to at least 475 lobbyists working on carbon capture and storage (CCS). The narrative that they are trying to proclaim is exaggerating the role carbon capture and storage or carbon management is capable of playing in reaching the world’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, also warned the world that fossil-fuel-producing countries are arguing carbon pollution can be largely captured and buried using scrubbing technology that is still unproven to work effectively at the scale that is needed to make a dent in global emissions.
Speaking at an event on Friday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. COP28 climate talks in Dubai, Kerry pointed out the nations are wrangling over the draft of a pledge to end fossil fuel use and pointing out at carbon capture and storage as a main alternative to solve the climate crisis.
“There are people here who want to just continue business as usual. And the great facade is: ‘Oh no, we’ll be able to capture everything… No scientist tells me we can capture it all. Can’t do it. Can we capture some? Yes, and by the way, I’m for it,’” said Kerry.
Kerry continued his comments saying it was up to the gas industry “to show us they can capture all those emissions, to tell us whether it’s really going to be part of the future. But don’t lie to people and tell them it’s green. And don’t pretend to people that that’s the main alternative.”
According to him, the next few days of talks, scheduled to end Tuesday, would be “absolutely critical. Without any question whatsoever.”
Research performed by Climate Action Against Disinformation, a global coalition of more than 50 organizations working to identify, analyze, and counter climate disinformation worldwide, also confirms the trend that the fossil fuel industry is exaggerating the potential of CCS in solving the climate crisis. The analysis shows fossil fuel companies are spending millions of dollars for the promotion of carbon capture and storage on social media as a “silver bullet” solution to climate change, manipulating the narrative around climate change solutions.
There is a draft released by the UAE government on Friday with options for a deal between almost 200 countries to “phase out” fossil fuels, supported by small island states, the U.S. and the European Union and an option for no deal at all, supported by Saudi Arabia, China and Russia – the world’s most fossil fuel dependent countries.
According to negotiation outcomes, Saudi Arabia is pushing for tackling the emissions rather than tackling the fuels that cause emissions. That also pushes for creating a dependence on carbon capture and storage technologies as a way of tackling emissions. As reported, countries are currently divided over how much CCS/ CCUS technology can be used, versus reaching an agreement over simply stopping the use of the fuels.
The EU is pushing for the deal at COP28 to include a stipulation that carbon capture and storage (CCS) can only be used for the hardest sectors to cut out the use of fossil fuels, like the cement industry.
“Make no mistake, we cannot CCS ourselves out of the problem,” said EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra, adding that carbon capture and storage was “a minor part of the solution space.”
Carbon capture and storage have also been causing other heated confrontations during the conference. Senior officials at the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were arguing about the viability of the solution towards reaching the net zero target.
The IEA called on oil and gas producers to let go of “the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture” are the solution to reducing emissions and reaching net zero targets. OPEC was accusing the IEA of finger-pointing, vilifying producers and using an “extremely narrow framing” of the challenges in reaching net zero that downplays energy security and affordability.
According to IEA projections, even under the most ambitious scenarios for carbon capture, the technology is able to scale to cover just 10% of cumulative emissions reductions between 2022 and 2050. That is due to its high cost of deployment, unmanageable by most emitters, and energy intensity. The limited capacity of the approach to mitigate climate change more broadly shows it is a niche solution.
However, CCUS/ CCS is a perfect match, according to industry specialists, for some hard-to-abate industries such as cement and waste-to-energy to reduce their emissions fast. That makes the ways of implementation critical to ensure the success of carbon capture as a climate change solution.
Other science-backed research also shows that scaling solar and wind energy rather than equipping fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage is a better investment and requires less energy. Carbon capture and storage remains a medium-term alternative overall to reducing emissions in the economy while grid-scaling renewables plus battery storage, coupled with hydrogen adoption is the long-term viable solution, proven to effectively drive down energy prices and cut the emission of greenhouse gases from the point source.