Over the last decade one of the solutions that has been touted to address climate change is carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This involves the capturing, transportation and storage of carbon from a point source such as a power plant or industrial facility, to then either be stored, or converted into other products.
Its proponents would argue that this technology doesn’t directly remove carbon from the atmosphere, it ‘cancels out’ the footprint of these carbon-intensive industries. This differs from carbon removal or sequestration, which refers to the use of land, ocean, or technology-based sites to absorb carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere.
Globally, CCS capacity is expected to quadruple by 2030, with the Global CCS Institute calling the $3.5 billion package for CCS approved by the United States Congress last year the ‘single largest appropriation of money for CCS in the history of the technology’.
Tellingly, fossil fuel companies are some of the loudest proponents of CCS, and increasingly, this technology is being rolled out in tandem with fossil fuel power plants as a means of extending their life and legitimacy, or justifying the development of new, profit-driven projects.
This so-called ‘climate solution’ is widely supported by the fossil fuel industry and its allies – big oil companies, fossil fuel-aligned think tanks, political groups and financial institutions, for which this technology offers a convenient justification for the continuation of business-as-usual.
One of the issues that advocates of this technology do not disclaim is that the addition of CCS to existing power plants, for example, does nothing for those whose health and livelihoods are impacted by the air pollution and ecological destruction caused by those facilities operating in their communities.
As well as prolonging the life of existing power plants, CCS comes with its own health and environmental risks. When it comes to the storage part of the process, previous leaks of captured carbon have resulted in groundwater contamination, highlighting the dangers of this technology as a scalable solution.
In 2021, over 500 environmental organizations signed an open letter published in the Washington Post calling on leaders to label CCS as a ‘false solution’ to the climate crisis, as it fails to address the myriad issues associated with the extraction of fossil fuels at the root cause of climate change.
Furthermore, this technology remains expensive, energy-intensive, and far from proven. A study published in 2020 found that over 80% of CCS projects have been unsuccessful. The technology itself is also a major energy drainer, meaning that more coal must be mined, transported and burned for a power station to generate energy using CCS.
Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has decreased by 98% in the last 40 years. It makes no sense to rely on CCS when we have community led, clean renewables available that would increase the accessibility, affordability and reliability of energy for communities while addressing the causes of climate change and producing up to 60 million jobs by 2050.
Ultimately, CCS is a corporate-friendly solution that ultimately provides an excuse for inaction and a false sense of security for industry and policymakers who would prefer to stall the energy transition towards renewables.