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Carbon capture and storage as a tool for urgent climate mitigation

In the race against time to achieve global climate targets, bold actions are necessary. Sadly, our actions have yet to match our commitments.

According to the United Nations’ report on the first Global Stocktake (GST), we are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The GST is an assessment of how much progress countries are making toward the Paris Agreement targets.

Mitigating climate change has proven to be a very challenging endeavor even for the most developed countries. Due to the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) already in the atmosphere — which is still rising since nations are still on the process of transitioning to net-zero emissions — deep cuts in emissions will not be enough.

As early as in 2005, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Capture and Storage (CCS), to explore and assess this method as an additional strategy for climate change mitigation.

CCS as added mitigation method

CCS is the process of separating CO2 from industrial and energy-related sources and transporting it to a storage location — such as rock formations underground — for long-term isolation from the atmosphere. When the captured CO2 is utilized, the method is now referred to as carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

In more recent reports of the IPCC, such as the 2018 Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and its 6th Assessment Report (AR6) in 2022, it acknowledged the need for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to help achieve climate targets, particularly to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions, such as in aviation, agriculture, shipping, and industrial processes.

But it stressed that CDR should only complement, not substitute, deep cut emissions strategies like reduction in fossil fuel dependence and shifting to renewable energy and less carbon intensive fuels.

As opposed to CCS that is more focused on capturing CO2 from the source, CDR is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere — which can be through reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, peatland and wetland restoration, ocean alkalinization, among others.

There are also types of CDR that uses the CCS technology. These are the direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), wherein CO2 is extracted directly from the atmosphere and then stored; and the bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), wherein the CCS technology is applied to a bioenergy facility.

CCS projects in the pipeline

Last year, the United Kingdom (UK) government announced that it would invest GBP 20 billion for the early deployment of CCUS projects; while the European Union (EU) launched the Net-Zero Industry Act, which aims to have 50 million tons per annum (Mtpa) of CO2 storage developed by 2030.

In China, three CCS projects became operational last year. It now hosts 11 operating facilities, including its first commercial-scale CO2 transport pipeline.

Japan also considers CCS as an essential strategy for achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. It aims to have its first commercial facilities to be operational by 2030, with a trajectory towards 240 Mtpa CO2 stored by 2050.

According to the Global CCS Institute’s 2023 report, there are 41 CCS facilities worldwide that are already operational, with a total capture capacity of 49 Mtpa. Meanwhile, there are 351 CCS projects in different countries that are in various stages of development, which represents a capture capacity of about 311 Mtpa.

While CCS may not yet be an option for the Philippines in the near future as the technology is both energy and capital intensive, it should already be part of the conversation, as this will be an important tool to support the decarbonization of hard-to-abate industries.

But we should always keep in mind that the CCS technology is just part of the bigger effort towards net-zero economy. Much of our actions must remain towards clean energy, more renewables, less emissions and fossil fuels, in order to help achieve the greater goal of sustainable development.

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