Wed, Jul 17 2024 17 July, 2024

EU emissions reduction targets criticised for CCS reliance

Critics say the EU’s new emissions reduction strategy focuses too heavily on unproven carbon capture technologies.

An oil and gas refinery with a flare stack (Photo: Adobe Stock/weerapong)

The EU Commission has put forward proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% to 2040. But while the emissions reduction targets appear entirely achievable, commentators are criticising the lack of commitment to the phase-out of fossil fuels, saying the strategy focuses too much on unproven carbon capture technologies.

Europe already set a binding 2030 target to reduce emissions by 55%, with this new interim 2040 target bringing it closer to the long-term goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the Commission said.

To achieve these goals, Europe needs to fully implement the existing legislation to 2030 through the ongoing update of the National Energy Climate Plans (NECPs) by Member States. In addition, an industrial decarbonisation deal is needed which will focus on a range of technologies, including wind power, hydropower, and electrolysers, and which continues to increase domestic manufacturing capacity in growth sectors like batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar PV, carbon capture utilisation and storage, biogas and biomethane, the Commission said.

While the energy sector is projected to achieve full decarbonisation “shortly after 2040 based on all zero and low carbon energy solutions,”  including renewables, nuclear, energy efficiency, storage, CCS, CCU, carbon removals, geothermal and hydro, the transport sector is expected to decarbonise “through a combination of technological solutions and carbon pricing.”

Moreover “the agriculture sector can also play a role in the transition, while ensuring sufficient food production in Europe, securing fair incomes and providing other vital services such as enhancing the capacity of soils and forests to store more carbon.”

“A holistic dialogue with the broader food industry, also beyond the farm gate, is crucial to success in this area and to the development of sustainable practices and business models.”

The new objectives come amid the publication of the EU’s Industrial Carbon Management Plan, which aims to ramp up deployment of carbon capture and utilisation technologies as part of a wider plan which targets 450 million tonnes of captured CO2 by 2050.

Despite the new targets being in line with existing decarbonisation objectives, commentators have noted however that this over reliance on carbon capture poses risks.

“The link between CCS and fossil fuels needs to be severed,” argued Wijnand Stoefs, policy lead of carbon removals at the watchdog Carbon Market Watch.

“The EU needs a fossil fuel phase-out sooner rather than later,” and CCS coupled with fossil fuels is “simply a distraction and a waste of financial resources and time,” he said.

“CCS could be a solution for a very limited set of sectors that have no current alternative to decarbonise” by “substituting products or different technologies, such as cement.”

However “CCS has a track record of failure, and the EU’s recent communications over-rely heavily on a technology that will be expensive, need infrastructure and has historically not performed well at all.”

Commenting on the wider targets, he said that they “are very much achievable, if anything, more could — and should — be done.”

The EU “should — and can — aim for climate neutrality by 2040,” he continued.

Moreover “we are disappointed that there is just one target that combines land-based sequestration, which is vulnerable and likely temporary with permanent storage.”

“It would have been better to have separate targets for each of these and the political process after the eventual publication of the targets and leading up to its adoption is an opportunity to correct that mistake.”

On the other hand, “we are very happy to see an explicit target for the remaining emissions in 2040, that is a big step forward.”

At the end of COP28, the European Commission proposed an “ambitious but realistic trajectory to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040,” Linda Kalcher, executive director at climate think tank Strategic Perspectives, told Gas Outlook.

“Current trends on renewable energy deployment, electric vehicles and heat pump uptake are providing confidence that the pathway is achievable if green technologies become more affordable,” she added.

According to analysis by Strategic Perspectives, “more is possible, especially in the energy sector” where “the EU can phase out coal by 2030 and gas by 2040, with the power sector being fossil-free in 2037.”

“This is vital for energy prices, especially when one looks at the high and volatile gas prices, and energy security.”

“Carbon capture and storage makes no economic sense in the power sector either, the future mix will be largely renewable energy with a role for nuclear energy,” she stressed.

“We hope that concrete phase out dates for coal, oil and gas will be set as this is vital for a just transition as workers need this predictability,” she said.

Carbon capture and storage has become an increasingly controversial topic, with the solution featuring prominently in the decarbonisation plans of oil and gas companies as well as of governments.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last November that the oil and gas industry was fuelling an implausible “illusion” that large amounts of carbon capture are a solution to climate change.

ExxonMobil CEO, Darren Woods rejected the claim saying the same could be said about electric vehicles and solar energy, according to media reports.

More recently, the CEO of Fortescue Metals, the Australian billionaire Darren Forrest, slammed CCS as a “complete falsehood” and a technology that has “failed for 75 years.”

Meanwhile, governments including the U.S. one have rolled out subsidy schemes to support build out of of CCS facilities.

The new 2040 target will be formalised into a legislative proposal by the next EU Commission after the European elections in June, and agreed with the European Parliament and Member States as required under the EU Climate Law.