Affordable decarbonisation ‘possible with carbon takeback scheme’

The CTBO is a supply-side mitigation policy that would require fossil fuel extractors and importers to dispose safely and permanently of the CO2 the fuel generates, starting with a low fraction and rising to 100 per cent by the year of net-zero CO2. This could provide a path to net-zero emissions by targeting a single industry, if enforced consistently and to include emissions generated by products sold.

“Despite the perceived high cost of carbon dioxide capture and storage, we show that the cost to the world economy of a CBTO, even if entirely passed on to fossil fuel consumers, is no higher than the cost of mitigation in conventional scenarios meeting similar goals driven by a global carbon price,” said Stuart Jenkins, Oxford graduate student and lead author of the Joule study.

The researchers used an integrated assessment model emulator to compare the CTBO to conventional demand-side mitigation policy, and found a globally enforced CTBO to be comparable in cost to similar ambition scenarios which mostly lean on demand-side measures (simulated by a global carbon price). Compared with the latter, the CTBO – with equivalent carbon prices capped by cost of carbon capture and storage –  has the advantages of simple governance, speed, and controllability.

In particular, CTBO combined with conventional demand-side measures provide a low-risk pathway to meet the Paris Agreement target of no more than 1.5°C of warming; this would ensure early emissions reduction and a rapid scale-up in carbon capture and storage. The study advised that supply-side measures like the CTBO should be seriously considered, as they may be more politically viable than the demand-side measures favoured by most governments.

At present, permanent CO2 capture and storage has attracted insufficient investment to scale up, currently deployed capture approximately 0.1 per cent of emissions from energy and industrial processes.

Professor Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh, a co-author of the report, said: “Investment in carbon capture and storage has, to date, been dependent on state subsidies, and consistently far below what is required to meet Paris climate goals. [CTBO] provides the fossil fuel industry itself with the strongest possible incentive to make amends: survival.”

Oxford’s Professor Myles Allen, another co-author, added: “[CTBO] has consistently been dismissed by the climate policy establishment as much more expensive and risky than the alternative of driving down consumption by changing consumer behaviour or through a global carbon price. But these options are hardly risk-free. Getting to net zero means carbon prices rising to $1000 per tonne of CO2 by 2050: 100 times the hike that brought out the gilets jaunes.”

Margriet Kuijper, a carbon capture and storage expert not involved with the research, said of the work: “A [CTBO] as proposed in this paper will provide a safety net to make sure we achieve net zero emissions even if we don’t manage to reduce the use of fossil fuels quickly enough. It extends the responsibility of producers to take care of the waste generated by the use of their products. The polluter pays to clean up. And the costs are included in the product price. As it should be.”

Meanwhile, a survey released by Microsoft and Goldsmiths, University of London, has found that just four in ten businesses say they are on track to comply with UK climate change targets to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by no later than 2050. Three quarters of organisations said they had “one foot in and one foot out” on sustainability.