19.3 CCS – a new solution or a new problem

Palle Bendsen , NOAH Friends of The Earth Denmark, Aarhus C, Denmark

The promise of CCS is that it allows for the continued use of coal whilst at the same time contributing significantly to the necessary reduction of GHG emissions.

This presentation is set to demonstrate that CCS will most likely prove to be a problem rather than a solution. The downsides to the technology are many: firstly it will mean not only a prolongation but even an increase in the use of coal, which is linked up with serious social, health and environmental impacts.  Secondly the mitigation it can render is far from what its proponents claim and a long shot from what is necessary. And thirdly the economics will most likely be poor as far as the relation between costs and mitigation effects is concerned. CCS is a ‘big' technology that will most likely suffer from the same illnesses as other large projects: they end up being much more costly than promised in the ‘selling phase'. On top of this is the question of liability – who will take the long-term responsibility?

Even if CCS was able to deliver a large contribution to mitigation, would it be able to do it within the necessary time frame and on the needed scale? Most sources claim that CCS at best will be developed commercially by 2020. If the world shall avoid catastrophe inducing increases in temperature then the available global carbon budget is so small that emissions must peak no later than 2015. And from there they must decline along a very steep trajectory where CCS cannot fit because its overall emissions are too large.

If succesfully sold to governments (it cannot happen without state subsidies) it will lock-in the energy supply systems with a outdated type of power generation. If CCS-systems are retrofitted to existing power plants they can take turns being obsolescent thus prolonging the coal age indefinitely. Competing with renewables for R&D resources and capital CCS will prevent an early development of sustainable energy supply systems for an energy efficient future with reduced energy demands.

The technologically developed rich countries of the world must deliver exactly that kind of future to the developing countries and to the generations to come.

The last killer-argument is CCS (partly) on biomass. But that would be a waste of a precious resource, as the biomass part of the fuel also would bear an energy penalty of 25-40%. Any biomass that can be harvested in a sustainable way should rather be used in district and even central combined heat and power generation.