Summer Series Ep. 2 | True believers should pay heed to the climate bible

It’s ironic that some of those who are the most loud in their demand for action to reduce emissions are the most selective when it comes to insisting what are the acceptable means of accomplishing this. 

Wind and solar power are almost always ‘IN’, and nuclear power and CCS are very often ‘OUT’. And there are quite a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ about other technologies. Curbing climate change is surely difficult enough without ideological purity tests being imposed on the possible solutions.

But even if such tests were demanded, who should set their parameters, and who should be the judge?

How could the final arbiter be other than the IPCC, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is acknowledged as the leading scientific authority?

Established in 1988, and now with 195 countries participating as members, the IPCC reviews the latest climate change research to inform policymakers.

In fact, it could be said that the only reason governments are (sometimes!) taking action to reduce CO2 emissions is because the IPPC says that if they do not the consequences will be dire.

Its Sixth Assessment Report published this year took into account more than 66,000 peer-reviewed studies. Some of its findings may be disputed, and some may in time even prove to be inaccurate, but nowhere in the world does there exist a more authoritative study.

It is the equivalent of the Holy Writ on climate change.

So what does the Sixth Assessment Report say about carbon capture and storage?

For a start, it makes clear that given current knowledge certain industries have no alternative but to make use of CCS, which it describes as a ‘critical mitigation option’

“Deep reduction of cement process emissions will rely on cementitious material substitution and the availability of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)... Reducing emissions from the production and use of chemicals would need to rely on a life cycle approach, including increased plastics recycling, fuel, and feedstock switching, and carbon sourced through biogenic sources, and, depending on availability, Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), direct air CO2 capture, as well as CCS (high confidence).” 

The IPCC appears also to have ‘high confidence’ in endorsing claims about the permanence of CO2 storage as compared to other carbon removal approaches. 

“Estimated storage timescales vary from decades to centuries for methods that store carbon in vegetation and through soil carbon management, to ten thousand years or more for methods that store carbon in geological formations...The technical geological storage capacity is estimated to be on the order of 1000 GtCO2, which is more than the CO2 storage requirements through 2100 to limit global warming to 1.5°C...If the geological storage site is appropriately selected and managed, it is estimated that the CO2 can be permanently isolated from the atmosphere.” 

The report highlights the need for CO2 to be captured from the atmosphere, either directly (DACCS), or from biomass (BECCS), but it warns that, currently, global rates of CCS deployment are far below those in modelled pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C to 2°C.  It suggests that policy instruments, greater public support, and technological innovation could promote its greater use; suggestions which most readers of this post will endorse.

It is true that the report suggests that there are a number of pathways in which net-zero greenhouse gas emissions could in theory be achieved without the use of CCS. But it is a matter of judgment as to whether all of these options are realistic given the constraints on policymakers, especially on elected policymakers who one day would like to be re-elected.

But what is certain is that the IPCC ‘Bible’ makes clear that there are other pathways to net zero which rely upon CCS playing a vital role. 

The IPCC plainly regards the range of CCS technologies as one of the tools available in the climate change fighting kit. More effective or less expensive means of curbing emissions will sometimes be found, in which case they should be put to use. In other instances, and with present knowledge, there exists no realistic substitute for CCS.

So, what expertise do CCS detractors bring to the debate that the IPCC does not possess? What additional arguments and evidence do they put forward that have not already been taken into account? 

What gives them the authority, or perhaps the arrogance, to claim that they know better than the world’s leading advisory body on climate change? 

Maybe now it’s a good time to add the Sixth Assessment Report to the summer reading list and reflect again upon the Holy Writ. 

Chris Davies 
Director, CCS Europe