Back in March, Greta hammered the EU’s climate law “suurender”, she had yet again another important message to broadcast.
She said, “Until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus then we must forget about net zero or ‘carbon neutrality.”
She was highlighting an aspect that is usually ignored, but is an essential part of the 2015 Paris Agreement – carbon capture and storage. The Swede questioned how we can continue burning carbon based fuels now and defer drastic mitigation until later, while the EU was busy celebrating its 2050 net zero target to reduce global warming to 2C.
According to The Independent, this deferral is seemingly lent legitimacy through negative emission technologies (NETs) – which are included in the majority of 1.5C and 2C pathways by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The modelling has been interpreted by many policymakers that we can overshoot our dwindling global carbon budget (800Gt until 2100 and counting) if we place faith in untested technologies in the future.
(BECCS) Bioenergy, carbon capture and story are the most prominent fixes, however, they are besieged by several issues, including the sheer land mass required of up to 80% of global cropland.
The process involves absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis when growing biomass, burning or converting the feed to create power and then sequestering the resulting carbon undergorund, therefor promisisng the creation of net negative emissions.
Other impressive but still reasonably underdeveloped methods are directly capturing CO2 from the air before storing it, using iron fertilisation to increase oxygen levels in the ocean, or simply… Planting trees.
Dr Ajay Gambhir of Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute believes NETs can still have a role in our decarbonised future – but that they can prove a “distraction” from the priority of emissions reductions.
He told The Independent “Over-reliance on NETs, none of which have been demonstrated at commercial scale, is risky, especially if used as an excuse to delay emissions reductions today.”
“There are several cost-effective ways of doing this which aren’t being taken up, such as closing increasingly unprofitable fossil fuel power plants, energy efficiency measures, dietary changes and less profligate consumption. In this sense, NETs are a distraction.”
BECCS is probably the most favoured technology in IPCC pathways, it can be found in only one pilot plant at Drax in Selby, where 1 ton of carbon a day is removed.
A Drax spokesperson said the technology would have the potential to store 16 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2035 – and that by 2050 BECCS could generate up to 173TWh of electricity by 2050, capturing up to 51 million tonnes of CO2 – around half of the remaining carbon in the economy that the UK will need to capture to become net zero.
The word “potential” has alarm bells ringing for scientists. Professor Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, says there is a role for negative emissions technologies – but they should not be considered an excuse for policymakers to continue with “business as usual”.
“These technologies must be in addition to getting emissions down as much as possible and as fast as possible,” he told The Independent.
“Negative emissions technologies are essential to mop up residual emissions and reach net zero, but it is delusional to consider them as a way of allowing for the continued use of large amounts of fossil fuels.”
Credit: Phoebe Cook – The Independent