CCS According to Top Environmental NGOs: A Vital Part of the Solution

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) is a vital part of the climate mitigation portfolio, according to some of the world's most pre-eminent environmental NGOs. Members of the Environmental NGO Network on CCS (of which NRDC is a founding member) just issued a new report (press release here) that spells out clearly why and how CCS is ready for broad deployment that results in meaningful carbon pollution reductions from the industrial and power generation sector, and even in "negative emissions" when combined with sustainable biomass. However, for that to happen, governments need to step up to the plate as a matter of urgency and adopt policies and measures that will make the technology a widespread reality.

The report comes 10 years after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its own Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (SRCCS), and 3 years after our previous publication on the topic. In this most recent report, we look at the successes and failures of the past 10 years, the status of the technology, its applicability to different sectors, as well as the state of affairs in key countries and regions of the world.

First, we conclude that CCS is ready for broad deployment beyond doubt. Although not sufficient to make a dent in national emissions yet, the number of large-scale integrated projects that are either already operating or will begin soon puts to rest the question of "readiness". You can now travel to several parts of the world to see such projects.

Second, we outline how CCS has broad applicability beyond the traditional focus on coal-fired power. In fact, CCS offers one of the top strategies for reducing industrial sector emissions (from iron/steel, cement, chemicals production and more), and it can also virtually eliminate emissions from natural gas-fired power generation. What is more, CCS may have an equally important role to play in reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations: when used together with sustainable biomass, it can result in "negative emissions". These may well prove to be necessary if we are to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Third, we summarize the successes of the past 10 years regulatory front, where considerable ground has been covered. The permitting and regulatory pathway for CCS projects in many countries is now clear, and progress on this front is indicative of what can be achieved when the will is there.

Fourth, we examine how government policies have fared and affected the fate of CCS. On this most important policy front, we have a mixed bag of notable but insufficient successes, huge lost opportunities, and some strikingly disappointing failures. Most of today's large-scale integrated projects owe their existence to government policies that enabled companies to get to plan, investors to lend, and engineers to do what they do best. Sadly, we do not yet have policy frameworks in place that will allow tens or hundreds of these projects to be built and operated. In some cases, we were on the verge of achieving this, but did not. Governments changed their minds, lawmakers lacked courage or vision, even promising assistance programs were scrapped after many years of project development and planning.

This, we conclude, is the single most pressing need today: for governments to take deep decarbonization seriously, realize the invaluable role that CCS has to play in many emitting sectors, and give it the attention it deserves and the enabling policies that have allowed other low-carbon technologies to flourish. This needs to take place at the national, international as well as regional and local levels.

Even though we continue to observe certain factions of industry wanting to perpetually present CCS as tomorrow's promising technology, there is no room for doubt that it is available to reduce carbon pollution dramatically today safely and effectively. Our organizations are not out to perpetuate the use of fossil fuels, but instead to plot out the fastest path to protecting our health and our climate. In doing so, we have come together to call for decisive action to ensure that the great potential that CCS technology holds becomes a reality fast. Governments need to take the next steps.