ID 1009661 copyA new study by SCCS scientists suggests that the Paris Agreement’s climate targets can be met rapidly if fossil fuel producers are obliged to pay for the storage of progressively increasing amounts of carbon emissions resulting from their products.

The researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed different policy mechanisms and concluded that carbon pricing and carbon trading permits had not been effective to date in adequately tackling greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they argue for a simple “certificate system” whereby fossil fuel companies pay for the secure geological storage of a proportion of each tonne of fossil carbon they produce.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), the suite of technologies that will enable this, is already operating in many countries but, says the study, the speed of construction is 100 times too slow to meet the 1.5°C climate challenge. By comparing diverse technologies for re-capturing carbon, the researchers show that CCS is the most rapid and cost-effective for storing the immense tonnages required.

The study forms part of a themed issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in which climate change experts compare a range of projected changes for a world at temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C. Their combined analysis suggests that limiting warming to 1.5°C is still possible if the global response to climate change is strengthened and accelerated.

Prof Stuart Haszeldine, The University of Edinburgh and SCCS Director, said:

The Paris Agreement of 2015 made an unprecedented pledge to hold global warming to within 1.5°C. That means leading industrial nations must achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2050. However, despite the welcome growth of clean energies and energy efficiency measures, the world’s carbon emissions are higher than ever, and continue to increase yearly. And fossil fuel producers continue to avoid having to pay for the impact of their products.

Carbon storage is a reliable remedy that the world will need if humans continue to over-extract and burn fossil fuels. It can be embedded into our existing industries with very little change, through our suggested certificate system. Starting small will ensure that fossil fuel producers can deploy storage technology at low cost. A stepped progression in the mechanism will ensure that producers pay for their share of climate clean-up. Governments need to rapidly enforce carbon storage if we are get anywhere close to our necessary response to the threat of climate change. A failure by current generations to act now with great ambition is gambling with the social and physical survival of future societies.

The Royal Society’s volume of highest quality international research clearly explains the benefits of limiting climate warming. Those benefits include a decreased risk of food shortages in emerging nations, global GDP wealth up to 13% greater by 2100, and up to 14% more land available for plant and animal species habitat refuges.

The special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society consists of review papers, opinion pieces and original research, and has been organised and edited by Dann Mitchell, Myles R Allen, Jim W Hall, Benito Mueller, Lavanya Rajamani and Corinne Le Quéré. Full papers are available on request:

Negative emissions technologies and CCS to achieve the Paris Agreement commitments (Haszeldine, R Stuart; Flude, Stephanie; Johnson, Gareth; Scott, Vivian) can be obtained here.

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