European countries should be given binding targets for installing technology to capture and store carbon emissions, according to a new report for the European Commission.
The UN’s climate science panel says such technology could have to account for over a fifth of the world’s carbon cuts by 2050 and the new paper, produced by consultants for the EC, says there is a “genuine and urgent” need for it in Europe.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an experimental technology that traps emissions produced at power plants to reduce their contribution to climate change.
“An EU roadmap for CCS with binding targets for 2030 sends a clear signal of intent to members of the UNFCCC process that the EU’s CO2 ambitions will be realised, thus maintaining a leading position for the EU in the climate debate,” says the EU guideline report, seen by the Guardian.
It calls for CCS roadmaps to be developed by EU countries and for the commission to prepare a list of potential CCS storage sites.
Graeme Sweeney, chair of the European Technology Platform for Zero Emissions Power said that CCS goals had to be ambitious. “We should put something in the order of 220m tonnes of CO2 underground across the EU by 2030,” he told the Guardian. “Perhaps three quarters of that should come from the power sector and at least a quarter from industrial sources such as steel, cement and aluminium.”
Sweeney, a former CO2 adviser to Shell, also called for a “parity of policy” in public funding for CCS and proven carbon-cutting technologies such as renewables and energy efficiency.
The Commission has not set binding 2030 targets for either renewables or energy savings. Some environmentalists fear that CCS could encourage fossil fuel extraction to continue unabated, locking-in future emissions, and displacing other low carbon investments.
But Simon Bennet, a CCS analyst for the International Energy Agency said that it was important to reject “unnecessary favouritism” in low carbon policies, although he stopped short of calling for equal funding for CCS.
“We see that CCS remains a critical technology if we are to achieve global climate targets,” he told the Guardian. “We think that now is a good time for the EU to reflect and bring forward policies that will give industry and EU stakeholders confidence that CCS is a valuable and investable technology for Europe.”
The UK government and some fossil fuels companies have lobbied hard for a technology-neutral approach that would allow more public money to kickstart the CCS industry.
Globally, CCS demonstration projects have fallen short of predicted results. In Europe, the commission had expected 12 large CCS plants to be working in Europe by now, but only two are so far operational – both in Norway – and just 13 exist in the world.
Most of these are associated with Enhanced Oil Recovery, a technique that pumps liquefied carbon into depleted oil and gas fields to extract the last remaining fossil fuels, before the fields are capped.
The report recommends making existing data on oil and gas fields available to enhance the CCS exploration phase.
Environmentalists welcomed a recommendation in the report to investigate the feasibility of a US-style emissions performance standard in Europe that would be compatible with Europe’s carbon trading scheme.
“The Commission now has no more excuses to further delay a much needed debate on the role of this policy for power plants,” said Darek Urbaniak, a WWF energy policy officer. “This will not only prevent lock-ins of the worst polluting infrastructure but also providea clear investment signal for the decarbonisation of the power sector.”
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology aims to capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants or energy-intensive factories and bury them in underground stores, like depleted oil and gas reservoirs or geological cavities.
By the end of 2010, 234 CCS projects were active or planned globally, a net rise of 26 from 2009, according to the Global CCS Institute.
This was despite soaring costs and cancellations by European countries including the Netherlands and Finland.
- DG Climate Action: Carbon Capture and Geological Storage