Climate Change

Why we must ponder on carbon capture technology to reduce GHG emissions

CCS is a technology-driven activity that requires capturing carbon dioxide produced by industrial activity, transporting it, and storing it deep underground

By Siddartha Ramakanth Keshavadasu
Published: Monday 18 October 2021

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a potent greenhouse gas. It is abundant and stays in the atmosphere for a long time. It is responsible for about 66 per cent the total energy imbalance that has been causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

It also dissolves in the ocean water, producing carbonic acid and lowering the ocean’s pH. This adversely affects the marine life. CO2 is one of the most notorious gases contributing to the changing climate.

To achieve the results pledged under Paris Agreement, 2015 to limit future temperature increases to 1.5 degree Celsius, emission reduction may just not be sufficient.

Literal removal of carbon from the atmosphere is vital to achieve the target, without which the cascade effect will result in catastrophic events, including sinking of the world’s important cities. It will pose risks to roads, railways, ports, underwater internet cables, farmland, sanitation and drinking water pipelines and reservoirs as well as even mass transit systems.

Some cities will disappear from the world map; others will need to become resilient to this change. Around 90 per cent of all coastal areas will be affected to varying degrees, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report.

To address the risks, we need to deploy technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere apart in addition to reducing emissions. Mass and Aggressive Afforestation (MAA) and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) are the primary ways of doing it.

MAA is more of a natural process, which also requires land recovery from existing use. CCS is a technology-driven activity that requires capturing carbon dioxide produced by industrial activity; transporting it; and then storing it deep underground.

Afforestation and CCS are the only most effective ways of reducing atmospheric CO2.

More than 190 countries have signed the Paris Agreement designed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even with pledges of massive reductions in emissions, however, many scientists believe carbon removal technologies would be needed to meet the goal.

Without a firm action to deliver 1 Gigatonne (Gt) of negative emissions globally by 2025, keeping global warming within the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C cannot be achieved, according to a report by Coalition for Negative Emissions (CNE) published June 2021.

The current cost of carbon removal is around $900-1000 a tonne of CO2. Currently, only one mega-scale project is commissioned in Iceland, which now houses the world’s largest CCS plant that aims to capture about 4,000 tonnes of CO2 every year viz 0.036 Mt by 2030.

So, the world needs 50,000 such CCS plants by 2024-25 to achieve a one-Gt reduction. This is in addition to addressing the new emissions that are likely to increase with post-novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) revival plans.

The massive afforestation programme set up by the Government of Telangana in India — which aims to plant 2.3 billion samplings with a target sustaining rate of 60 per cent — will absorb at least 46 Mt by 2030. Yet, the net removal of CO2 is likely to be around 1.9 Mt by 2030.

But MAA is difficult to execute in a sustained manner given the pressure of population, jobs and wealth distribution. But technological interventions like CCS are the only solution that can be adopted for countries to meet the target and eventually become net-zero.

A few European countries and China have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 and 2060 respectively. For them to meet the target, the carbon absorption should be in the range of 0.3-1 Bt of CO2 per annum, according to Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive, Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

The math seems simple but given the cost and the disturbed economies in the post-pandemic world, the funding of such projects is a billion-dollar question.

Let us try to devise a conceptual strategy to source the funds. Luckily, most developed cities are near the coasts and are the most vulnerable to climate change.

These cities may put restrictions on the products or services that are not responding to climate change by way of direct action, which will put pressure on the companies to start making provisions in their budgets and start investing in the CCS projects.

The economically underdeveloped states also need to start preparing an action plan for CO2 removal by way of MAA parallelly devising plans to penalise the companies.

But then not all the companies are large enough to set up or directly invest in CCS and need a market to indirectly contribute to CCS by paying a price, a market for carbon credits already exists but with discriminative pricing. Such pricing is detrimental in convincing the companies and states to invest in such projects.

The current market needs to facilitate trade of carbon credits, which are generated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. A new market or a new mechanism for trade of such carbon credits with a flat price mechanism for the initial 10 years and mandatory purchase of the same by each country with a defined quota should be developed.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth


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