Climate Change

Climate Crisis: Carbon capture tech faces multiple challenges, says IPCC Synthesis Report

Carbon dioxide removal would be necessary to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions, the report said

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Monday 20 March 2023
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and other emission sources, transporting it and storing or burying it in a suitable deep, underground location or minerals. Photo: iStock_

Lili Fuhr's quote has been corrected and the article has been updated on March 21, 2023 to improve clarity. 

There are multiple barriers to implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology tool that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

IPCC’s Synthesis Report under the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) cycle was released on March 20. The report highlighted some of the barriers are technological, economic, institutional, ecological, environmental and socio-cultural barriers.

“Enabling conditions such as policy instruments, greater public support and technological innovation could reduce these barriers,” the authors wrote in the document.

Read more: Earth sciences ministry’s revised budget estimate reduced by 22%, multiple delays cited as reasons

The technology involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and other emission sources, transporting it and storing or burying it in a suitable deep, underground location. The other option is to inject captured CO2 into reactive rocks such as basalt.

Captured CO2 can be injected into the ground, called “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR), which is particularly attractive and profitable to oil and gas industries. This technology is mature and at scale.

This is because the addition of CO2 increases the overall pressure of an oil reservoir, forcing the oil towards production wells, Christophe McGlade, Head of the Energy Supply Unit at the International Energy Agency (IEA), wrote in a commentary

The injected CO2 can also blend with the oil to help it flow more easily, he added.

Around 500 thousand barrels of oil are produced daily using enhanced oil recovery today, according to the IEA’s new global database of enhanced oil recovery projects.

When CO2 is captured directly from the atmosphere (DACCS), or biomass (BECCS), CCS provides the storage component of carbon dioxide removal methods, the report read. 

“Most CO2 captured is used for EOR projects which produce oil and don’t reduce emissions. Currently, CCS captures less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions,” Lili Fuhr, deputy director of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), said at a press briefing organised by Climate Action Network, a global network of more than 1,900 civil society organisations.

Fossil fuel companies are using this technology as a cover as they expand their business, she added.

Read more: Climate Crisis: Increased evidence of maladaptation, says IPCC Synthesis Report

Carbon dioxide removal

CCS prevents a fraction of emissions from an emitting source, such as a cement plant, from entering the atmosphere. At the same time, carbon dioxide removal techniques transfer carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to some form of storage, according to CIEL. 

The report stated that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) would be necessary to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions. If warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report suggested additional CDR deployment is needed.

Deploying CDR can counter emissions from hard-to-abate industries such as agriculture, aviation, shipping, and industrial processes to achieve net zero CO2, it added.

The report, however, warned that the impacts, risks, and co-benefits of deploying CDR for ecosystems, biodiversity and people will be highly variable. This will depend on the method, the implementation site and the scale.

There is a risk that proponents of this technology will push for investments at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), Fuhr added.

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