EASAC’s Latest Analysis Reveals Increasing Significance of Technologies to Remove CO2

In a new report, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which is the representative of the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway, and Switzerland, states its latest analysis shows that technologies and methods for eliminating CO2 from the atmosphere are becoming increasingly important with the failure to reverse the burgeoning global emissions.

However, the large risks involved in being dependent on future deployment of technologies that are not yet proven means that EASAC restates—in compliance with its 2018 report—that the highest priority must be given to mitigation always, including the quick growth of feasible CCS technology and business models.

These negative emission technologies cannot compensate for the dearth in effort to reduce CO2; however, the size of the gap between current emission trends and those required to fulfill Paris Agreement targets makes such technologies appear more and more essential. Therefore, EASAC concludes that it is time to include these in the EU’s future climate policy. Currently, a single technology has not evolved as the best choice and a set of technologies will probably be required.

As mitigation remains inadequate to keep warming within Paris Agreement Targets, applying negative emissions technologies at a potentially huge scale is increasingly likely to be necessary. Applying such technologies at the scale required would require the development of a new industry close to the same size as the current fossil fuel industry—a huge diversion of economic resources within the economy. To avoid dangerous climate change and bolster its economy, therefore, the EU should be examining the most likely technologies to be relevant to Europe’s future industries.

Professor Michael Norton, Director of Environment, EASAC

Negative Emissions Technologies

Considering the role of negative emissions technologies (NETs) in carbon dioxide removal (CDR), this update perfects the company’s earlier conclusions as follows:

  • In the previous statement, the company noticed the risk of moral hazard in accepting as legal future scenarios that are based on assumed CDR of several gigatonnes of CO2 every year through unverified technologies. Accepting such models may deteriorate resolution in addressing politically difficult mitigation options in the near term and entails placing NETs at stake which become the huge challenge later. Ethically, the potential losers of a failed bet upon NETs are future generations, particularly the weakest among them, who would be most susceptible if it failed and who could not probably consent.
  • Current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have to be reinforced and mitigation must be made the first priority before any reliance on future NETs.
  • The current failure to reverse the expansion in global emissions implies that fulfilling Paris Agreement targets relies more and more on the deployment of NETs.
  • NETs must be constantly and critically evaluated and considered in combination with future mitigation policy when determining Europe’s policy toward meeting Paris Agreement targets.
  • Climate models propose that early application of NETs in tandem with mitigation provides a larger opportunity to meet Paris Agreement targets and avoid catastrophic environmental and social impacts than implementing NETs at a larger scale later this century.
  • EU and national governments must find a European research, development, and demonstration program for NETs which is in accordance with their own capabilities and industrial base.

On Specific Negative Emissions Technologies and Techniques

  • Reforestation, reversing deforestation, improving wetlands, and increasing soil carbon levels continue to be the most cost-effective and feasible strategies to CDR and should be executed now as low-cost solutions pertinent to developed as well as developing countries. However, the capacity of these sinks is expected to be exploited in a few decades.
  • The role of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) continues to be associated with considerable risks and doubts, over its environmental impact as well as its potential to realize net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Recent analyses do not support the large negative emissions potential offered to BECCS in climate scenarios reducing warming to 1.5 °C or 2 °C, and policymakers should avoid early decisions in favor of a single technology such as BECCS. A set of technologies is likely to be necessary in the future.
  • With direct air capture with carbon storage (DACCS), considerable growth has been realized; however, it is not yet possible to find a desirable technology.
  • Improving weathering and in situ and ex situ carbon mineralization demands further basic research prior to properly evaluating its potential.

CCS

In the last year, the United States has allocated tax credits to CCS projects, giving a financial incentive for CCS (and CO2 use) development. The United Kingdom carried out an analysis of strategies to decrease costs and recently announced an Action Plan to allow the development of the first carbon capture usage and storage facility in the United Kingdom, commissioning from the mid-2020s. One aspect may be to set up transport and storage hubs akin to those envisioned in Norway so that CO2 capture strategies could be developed in sites where high-emitting industries are crowded and could use government-supported transport and storage facilities with cheapest rates.

EASAC accepts these belated initial steps and re-emphasizes its previous conclusion that “efforts should continue to advance CCS into a pertinent and comparatively inexpensive mitigation technology,” and that “increasing mitigation with such measures will decrease the future need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.” The European Commission acknowledges that CCS deployment is still essential. In the light of the most advanced facility for storing captured CO2 being outside the EU (Norway) and also the unsureness over the future position of the United Kingdom, the European Union may have to coordinate with such facilities to create an integrated European CCS system.

Forest Biomass

On bioenergy, shifting to imported biomass from coal continues at many millions of tonnes every year. This highly challenging development is propelled by rules which enable all imported biomass to be considered as zero emissions at the combustion stage. This consideration, in turn, decreases countries’ emissions proclaimed in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS); however, this practice may essentially be increasing their emissions. The science demonstrating the extent of adverse impacts of considering all biomass as renewable has turned out to be stronger. If the biomass is not differentiated as renewable and non-renewable, it is more likely that the Paris targets will be surpassed. Due to their lack of effort, policymakers are increasing the threat of dangerous climate change. EASAC emphasizes that it is necessary that bioenergy accounting is adjusted to reflect real climate impacts for the next one or two decades and to distinguish between climate-positive and climate-negative uses of bioenergy. Furthermore, policymakers should remove subsidies for non-renewable biomass, a source of energy which is accelerating climate change.

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