CCS – taking Climate Change Seriously
Fred Pearce blogs in The Guardian that anyone supporting R&D for carbon capture and storage are part of a growing “faith brigade”, deluded into believing CCS is an imminent fix – including President Obama!
Sorry, Fred, but among those going to Capitol Hill next week to air their views on coal-fired power stations will be US trade unionists no less concerned about climate change than the next person, but with a different and equally valid perspective on the need for clean energy and clean production processes.
Our own support for the urgent development of carbon capture technology is nothing to do with green wash, and everything to do with the need to find out now if large scale CO2 capture technology works and is environmentally feasible.
The unprecedented loss of Arctic sea ice this summer is proof enough that real-time climate changes are ahead of scientific models. Coal accounts for around 40% of CO2 emissions annually. We have to move much more quickly to deal with coal, or we won’t resolve the challenges to our planet of global warming.
The UN identified CSS as part of “a portfolio of measures that will be needed” to achieve the stabilisation of global greenhouse gas emissions, grounds enough to support a CCS pilot programme.
Our focus is not just on capture of CO2 from the UK’s handful of 17 fossil fuel stations (we burn 60 million tonnes of coal annually) but to test bed the technology for the truly massive fleets of coal burning power stations of China, at 2.4 billion tonnes, or India or the US, each around a billion tonnes and rising. CCS is an essential if the increase in CO2 emissions from the rapidly developing economies of China, India and other nations reliant on coal are to be contained and reduced. Historic responsibility for CO2 emissions lies with the developed world. If developing countries need “space” to grow their economies, then we have to provide the means for a low carbon future.
From a wider heavy industry perspective, we also need to know if this technology works. A UN Special Report on CCS (2005) showed that 60% of global CO2 from fossil fuels originate from a hard core of around 7,900 heavy emitting point sources globally – power stations and energy-intensive industries like steel, cement and aluminium. These sites each emit more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, an aggregate total of 13.5 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Potentially, current capture systems for power plants are capable of capturing 85% to 95% of CO2.
What do you say to the tens of thousands working in these plant? To shut them all down? Or, as we believe, to use cap-and-trade strategies to stimulate the application of low carbon technologies in their place – through CCS, ultra-low-carbon steel making, and other technological changes.
The success of CCS is not simply an environmental necessity for trade unions. Many potential CCS candidate plants – in power generation, steel manufacture, chemicals, paper and pulp manufacture and many other energy intensive sectors – offer decent terms and conditions of employment in long-standing union agreements. The current economic recession adds urgency of answers to CO2 capture in a variety of essential energy-intensive industries.
We’ve suggested that the UN should lead a global CCS initiative, ahead of a consortium of developed countries in a coordinated research and development programme for CCS applied to a range of power and other industrial processes – coal, gas, steel, cement and others. The IEA Energy Technology Perspectives “Blue” Scenario (2008) provides for a vital role for CCS to 2050, requiring the annual deployment of around 55 power plants with CCS per year from 2020.
We certainly don’t blag CCS as an “imminent fix”, just a seriously urgent issue. In the UK, the parallel development of CCS and new unabated stations like Kingsnorth, with still unresolved capture obligations, is clearly problematic. But its feasibility, or otherwise, needs to be established with the utmost speed.