Capture the carbon

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Christian Friis Bach.

The only way to limit global warming to less than two degrees is to combine renewable energy and energy efficiency with a large expansion in the use of carbon capture and storage, writes Christian Friis Bach.

Christian Friis Bach is executive secretary and under-secretary-general of UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

I will admit that just a few years back I was very sceptical. Today I am convinced that we must do it. We must capture the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels.

Oil prices tumble. Coal resources are vast. Large new gas reserves have been found. Fossil fuels will be with us for many decades and will continue to underpin social and economic development around the world. We need to invest heavily in energy efficiency and in renewable energy sources, but the only way we can hope to limit global warming to less than two degrees is to combine it with a significant expansion of the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

It can be done. The technology is feasible. It is expensive but it will be much more expensive not to do it. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report estimates that without CCS the cost of climate mitigation would increase by 138%. CCS technology should be developed and supported on a comparable basis with other no carbon or low carbon technologies.

This is the clear message from a set of new recommendations developed by the 56 countries in UNECE following extensive consultations with experts from around the world.

The recommendations emphasize that a post-Kyoto international agreement should accept a broad array of fiscal instruments to encourage CCS. It must address capturing and storing carbon dioxide from all industrial sectors, cement, steel, chemicals, refining and transportation. Governments must work together to sponsor and support multiple demonstration projects at scale. And carbon dioxide injected into reservoirs for enhanced hydrocarbon recovery should be treated and calculated as storage if stored permanently. This approach will promote economically viable solutions and make CCS an attractive solution. Measurement, reporting, and verification will be needed to establish that the CO2 is indeed permanently stored.

Together, these recommendations could bring the technology forward and provide economically attractive solutions and needed deep emissions cuts.  And importantly the recommendations could, if implemented, engage the fossil fuel industry as part of the solution – instead of being seen as only part of the problem. This could change the political dynamics and help to shape a strong climate agreement in Paris.

That is what we need.

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