Don’t be fooled: CCS is no solution to oil and gas emissions

The oil and gas industry wants you to believe it can capture its emissions and keep drilling as usual. That’s no way to avert climate chaos

At the Cop28 climate conference taking place in Dubai, oil and gas producers are counting on carbon capture and storage (CCS) for a social license to keep drilling as usual. Don’t fall for it.

While it can be helpful at the margins, CCS cannot possibly deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on the scale needed to avert climate disaster. This can only happen if the main sources of emissions – fossil fuels – are phased out.

CCS is expected to deliver less than a tenth of the cumulative carbon dioxide emission reductions, over the 2023-2050 period, needed to hold global warming to 1.5C.

In the International Energy Agency net zero emission (NZE) scenario, CCS captures approximately 1.5 billion tons (GT) of CO2 in 2030, and 6 GT by 2050. But very little of that is applied to emissions from fossil fuel production and combustion. It is primarily used to capture CO2 from sectors where emissions are harder and more expensive to reduce, such as cement production or chemicals.

Is the IEA NZE scenario the only way to achieve net-zero emission and limit the temperature increase to 1.5C? Certainly not. There are different scenarios out there, including those of the Energy Transition Commission and McKinsey. And scenarios coming out of models are not to be confused with reality. The fossil fuel industry claims it can achieve the same objectives as in the IEA NZE scenario, while producing more oil and gas, by relying more heavily on CCS. Is this true?

50% more expensive

Another IEA scenario, the stated policies scenario, gives the answer. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions in this way would require the capture of 32 GT of CO2 emissions by 2050, including 23 GT through direct air capture (DAC).

At this scale, DAC alone would require 26,000 TWh of electricity to operate, which is more than the total global electricity demand today. Reaching net-zero emissions in this way would be 50% more expensive (for an annual investment cost of $6.9 trillions) than in the IEA NZE scenario.

People in the oil and gas industry know there is zero probability of this high-CCS scenario coming true. They are not even seriously investing in it, but waiting for governments, through taxpayers, to pick up the bill. The reality is they are just fooling us one more time, to buy time we can’t afford to waste in dealing with the climate crisis.

For all these reasons, framing the objective of the energy and climate transitions in the Cop28 decision text as “phasing out unabated [i.e. without CCS] fossil fuel emissions”, without specifying the order of magnitude of CCS in the overall portfolio of zero-carbon energy solutions (approximately 10%), and its primary use (hard-to-abate sectors, outside the oil and gas industry), would be profoundly misleading.

Focus on real solutions

It would also be a missed opportunity for Cop28 to send a clear signal of where investments should be going in the energy sector, to ensure climate safety as much as ener

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