March 13th, 2010 | Ted Dhillon
CCS is being positioned as one of the major ways of combating climate change. The IPCC estimates that the economic potential of CCS could be between 10% and 55% of the total carbon mitigation effort until year 2100 (Section 8.3.3 of IPCC report).
According to Wikipedia, “CCS (or carbon capture & sequestration) is a means of mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming, based on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources such as fossil fuel power plants, and store it away from atmosphere by different means. It can also be used to describe the scrubbing of CO2 from ambient air as a geoengineering technique.”
While CCS has the potential of reducing emissions to the atmosphere, however it also has some major drawbacks – a) it is a nascent technology not yet fully proven; b) there is no guarantee that carbon sequestered in below-ground reservoirs will not leak; and c) CCS projects are prohibitively expensive. Also, for regions of the world that are profiting from energy intensive industries, CCS is a convenient way of “reducing emissions while not really reducing emissions,” in that if one can capture the carbon and push it below ground then one could potentially continue with emissions intensive activities, even increase the net carbon that is emitted.
An example of this is Alberta, which has plans to capture and store 50 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2020 and 139 million tonnes by 2050. It has invested $2 billion in four large-scale CCS projects to prove that this is possible. Clearly, if it can prove the technology works, it becomes far easier for it to continue to extracting oil from the tar sands. However, here is the disconnect – the Alberta government has levied a $15 per tonne tax on carbon emissions, way too low from the economic perspective. Analysts agree that this figure should be upwards of $60, some say closer to $100 per tonne, for the initiative to have a positive economic impact. Seems like a running with the hare, and hunting with the wolves policy to me.
CCS will work only for large scale projects, and probably the technology will be proven in coming years. However, it cannot be the only solution to the problem. It should form part of a package that includes other steps (cap & trade, carbon tariffs, etc.) to be truly effective.