The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) kicked off this week in Dubai, bringing together world leaders to discuss solutions to address the climate crisis. A major point of contention has emerged around the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, pitting fossil fuel companies against climate activists and skeptical governments.
Fossil Fuel Companies Tout CCS as Climate Solution
Fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco have descended on COP28 to promote carbon capture, a technical fix that traps emissions from industrial sources before they enter the atmosphere. The oil companies argue that CCS paired with further deployment of natural gas are key to reducing emissions quickly while still allowing for economic growth.
ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said that CCS could enable “net zero” oil and gas operations and called it the “only scalable technology we have today that can decarbonize hard-to-abate industries”. The American Petroleum Institute industry group is pushing a goal of capturing 2.6 billion tons of CO2 emissions globally by 2050 – requiring a 139-fold increase in current CCS capacity.
Climate Activists Call CCS a “Dangerous Distraction”
Climate activists have slammed CCS as a “dangerous distraction”, arguing that it will only prolong dependence on dirty fossil fuels. They point out that carbon capture projects have a history of failure, with prior government investments used by oil companies to find and extract more oil instead of cutting emissions.
Only 12 functional CCS facilities exist globally today capturing just 0.1% of global emissions. Expanding deployment faces immense costs, geographic constraints,technical barriers, and unproven permanent underground storage. One analysis found that globally relying on CCS for net zero could cost $8.5-11.5 trillion more versus direct emissions cuts from renewable energy. Critics argue this massive capital would be better spent replacing fossil fuel infrastructure.
Divisions Emerge Between Developed and Developing Countries
Fierce divisions have emerged on CCS between developed countries pushing the technology as a quick fix versus developing nations demanding direct action to phase out fossil fuels.
The United States and European Union have embraced CCS in their net zero plans to balance economic impacts, setting aggressive goals to scale deployment. However, a bloc of developing countries led by India are resisting, arguing that CCS allows the global north to evade responsibility while shifting climate risks onto the developing world.
India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said in a COP28 speech that the global north attempts to “offset emissions rather than eliminate them“, enabling continued extraction of oil and gas while “exporting the challenges of carbon storage to the developing world through carbon offsets“.
Yadav and other critics argued that CCS projects in the developing world carry unproven safety risks and could impose massive cleanup costs on future generations if storage sites leak.
CCS Investments Accelerating But Deployment Still Small
Even as debate intensifies over its climate role, investments into CCS technology are accelerating rapidly. Governments and corporations have announced $6.7 billion in new CCS projects over just the past few months.
The US passed landmark tax credits subsidizing CCS as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, estimated to mobilize $85 billion in investments. The EU is funding 1 billion euros annually into CCS demonstration projects. Chevron, Exxon and others have major CCS hubs planned.
However, all these efforts would still only expand global capacity to 65-85 million metric tons captured annually by 2030 – far below the gigaton-scale sequestration rates likely needed to significantly impact atmospheric CO2 levels.
This limitation has led an increasing number of experts to argue that while CCS has useful niche applications like cement manufacturing, it cannot replace rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewables and should only play a supplementary role in mitigation plans.
|Global CCS Capacity
|Operational (million tons/year)
|As % of Global Emissions
Projections based on announced government and industry investments
CCS Future Direction Key Topic as COP28 Continues
With fossil fuel interests eager to prove CCS’s usefulness during COP28 side events and demonstrations, a central question in negotiating sessions will be whether governments incorporate the technology as a substantial pillar of global climate action or remain wary of its real limitations despite industry hype.
The coming days may see introducing of new global goals around CCS or partnerships between developed countries and private companies to fund deployments across the developing world. However, resistance from skeptical nations could water down or block such efforts. The extent that the final COP28 agreements embrace CCS will have major implications for whether the world can actually achieve needed emission reductions.
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