Could Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) save the planet? Many experts believe that, with enough investment, CCS can enable societies to make the transition to net zero carbon emissions within the timeframe necessary to avoid the worst-case scenarios for climate change – and without the upheaval of sudden and radical changes to daily life. Others suggest that by making technologies and processes that rely on fossil fuels ‘clean,’ CCS could reduce incentives to move away from them.
What is CCS?
CCS is a technology that grabs carbon dioxide (CO2) and prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, where it would contribute significantly to global warming. CCS compresses carbon emissions and injects them deep into underground rock formations, storing them permanently. It can capture and neutralise emissions from carbon-intensive activities like heavy industry, power generation and oil and gas processing.
Why it matters
To limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is the target of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this without CCS would involve fast and far-reaching reductions in energy demand that would in turn require massive – and unlikely – changes to the economy, society and individuals’ behaviour.
So there is a consensus that CCS will have to go hand-in-hand with efforts to decarbonise the economy, such as shifting from coal-fired power to renewable energy.
If investment in CCS is not increased, economies will have to act retrospectively by scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which would be much less efficient than capturing these emissions at their source.
Capturing the problem
While CCS technology has been around for nearly a century, putting it to work has taken on greater urgency as rising carbon emissions wreak increasingly serious damage on the climate. Today, there are 19 large-scale CCS facilities globally, with 32 more in the pipeline.1
While CCS facilities have already captured more than 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, they have the potential to play a much greater part in reducing emissions over time. In a scenario set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CCS could account for a cumulative reduction in emissions of up to 300 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 – which is more than 800 times the UK’s carbon emissions in 2018. The International Energy Agency estimates that roughly 2,000 CCS facilities will be needed by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is achievable, according to the Energy Transitions Commission, a think tank, but will be expensive, especially for so-called ‘hard to abate’ sectors where fossil fuels are difficult to replace quickly.
Industrial sectors including the steel and cement industries account for about 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.2 HSBC believes CCS has significant potential to accelerate decarbonisation in these sectors.