Brussels is planning to channel considerable political and financial support into carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technological climate fix it now sees as indispensable to meet the EU’s goal of eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, a leaked draft of an ‘industrial carbon management plan’ suggests.
In the 23-page document, seen by Euronews on Tuesday (16 January), the EU executive says the bloc will need to be capturing the equivalent of 450 million tonnes of CO2 every year to meet its climate neutrality goal. The plan is due to be published on 6 February, alongside a communication on an interim 2040 emissions reduction target that scientific advisors say will need to be at least 90%.
The anticipated annual CO2 sequestration rate by 2040 is left blank in the document (although it foresees up to 200m tonnes in the European Economic Area, which includes CCS front runner Norway), as is the as yet undecided target for emissions reductions by that year.
It tentatively suggests 50m tonnes will need to be captured every year by 2030, in line with the recent Net Zero Industry Act proposal to make oil and gas companies provide at least that volume of permanent storage capacity annually, at their own expense, by the end of the decade.
The draft suggests the Commission is now considering pledging a range of policy and financial support, including immediate “preparatory work in view of a possible future CO2 transport regulatory package” and to “develop in cooperation with geological services of the EEA an Investment Atlas of potential CO2 storage sites based on common Storage Readiness Level format”.
It also undertakes to develop and launch jointly with member states a call for funding under the Connecting Europe Facility, which has a budget of over €20 billion, for cross-border CO2 transport infrastructure to be deemed projects of common interest and higher priority ‘important projects of European interest’ (IPCEI).
“To start the process as soon as possible, use the existing Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage Forum platform to ensure good coordination, set the timing, monitor progress and keep the pace of the project. Consider establishing a dedicated high-level platform to work beyond 2030,” the Commission also pledges in the draft text.
The indication of the direction of travel within an EU executive that until relatively recently was somewhat sceptical about the potential of CCS is in harmony with the demands of the technology's most vocal backers, including petrochemical companies and others who see it as a route to decarbonising, rather than replacing, existing industrial process.
Chris Davies, a UK former MEP who steered the EU’s first legislation on carbon capture through the European Parliament in 2009 and remains a staunch advocate, pointed to the Commission’s acknowledgement that CCS “in general still needs to be recognised by governments across the EU as a legitimate and necessary option to decarbonise”. This, Davies told Euronews, amounted to “an admission that there has been a failure of political leadership that persists today”.
“The draft strategy spells out that the ambition of net-zero CO2 emissions cannot be achieved without extensive deployment of carbon capture technologies,” Davies said, noting that no CO2 is currently being stored in Europe, although both Denmark and the Netherlands have seen government-backed projects getting off the ground recently. “There is no hiding place for governments that seek to avoid providing support.”
The former MEP said the Commission must not delay progress further by taking too long to develop standards for CCS operations and how CO2 removals should be accounted for within the EU’s emission trading system, currently the main driver of decarbonisation in the power generation and, to a lesser extent, industrial sectors.
But environmental campaigners have long harboured doubts about CSS, pointing to the failure of earlier EU-backed attempts to decarbonise coal-fired electricity plants and arguing that at most it should be used to reduce emissions in sectors where there is genuinely no alternative. Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, a Brussels-based NGO alliance, reacted with alarm to the policy approach suggest by the leaked document.
“It is unacceptable that the Commission suggests continued reliance on fossil fuels in the power sector, while it also goes against what is agreed internationally, in the EU climate law and in the science community,” said Boris Jankowiak, coordinator for industry transformation policy at CAN Europe told Euronews.
“Building a ‘business case’ for storage and making captured CO2 a ‘valuable commodity’ misses the urgency to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels,” Jankowiak said. “Tackling the climate crisis means that the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, keeping CO2 infrastructure and storage needs to a minimum.”
The climate campaigner said sectors where there is a proven alternative solution should be “more clearly ruled out from potential CCS development”, and that the text suggests EU officials working on the industrial carbon management plan have ignored the actual level of readiness, cost and efficiency of carbon capture technology. “We need to see all those elements addressed in a ‘strategic’ document,” Jankowiak said.