DeSmog

Corporate Promotion of Carbon Capture and Storage Contradicts Science, Study Finds

Report shows oil and gas companies are spreading confusion over the science of climate change solutions, leading to “misguided” ideas behind CCS use.
Analysis
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A new report shows that carbon capture and storage plants are not a feasible justification to deepen reliance on fossil fuels, which are driving climate breakdown. Credit: Buchsbaum Media

The vast majority of corporate advocacy promoting carbon capture and storage is misaligned with climate science, new research shows. 

According to an analysis released today by InfluenceMap, over 80 percent of corporate policy engagement on CCS between 2021 and 2023 does not meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s science-based policy guidance, which includes recommended methods for limiting warming to 1.5°Celsius or well-below 2°C – the targets established by the Paris Agreement. The study shows that IPCC recognizes a role exists for carbon capture technologies. However, the UN’s climate science body has stated that global fossil fuel production and use must decline substantially, and that CCS is not a feasible justification to deepen reliance on these dirty fuels that are driving climate breakdown. 

Yet, the oil and gas sectors that dominate corporate promotion of CCS see these technologies as a lifeline to continue and expand their extractive business model, and as a distraction from mounting calls for a fossil fuel phaseout, the InfluenceMap report notes. The analysis comes at the same time global delegates and other stakeholders gather in Dubai for the 28th annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP28, where a battle over the future of fossil fuels and the use of CCS is expected to figure into the negotiations. 

“Oil and gas companies have been doing everything they can to avoid concrete action to phase out fossil fuels – including by pushing for carbon capture and storage,” Sofia Basheer, senior analyst at InfluenceMap and an author of the new InfluenceMap study, said in a press release. “If governments can’t agree on a science-based plan to get to net zero, and fossil fuels remain a significant part of the equation, the oil and gas industries will have won a major victory.”

The report examined 750 instances of corporate policy engagement pertaining to CCS from the LobbyMap database from 2021 to 2023, and compared them with science-based policy positions. In the energy sector, this is defined as “one that recognizes the need for significant reduction in fossil fuel use with only a limited and/or targeted role for fossil fuel with CCS in the 2050 energy mix,” while for heavy industry (such as cement manufacturing) it “recognizes the potential importance of CC(U)S alongside the adoption of new production processes and other measures to eliminate GHG emissions,” the report explains. 

Most of the corporate advocacy analyzed, around 80 percent, did not align with these positions. Roughly half of this 80 percent was found to be “indiscriminate promotion” of CCS that fails to clarify the technology’s’ limitations or narrow uses where it might be applicable, and fails to recognize the need to reduce overall fossil fuel use. The other 40 percent is even more misaligned, as it is characterized as advocacy intended to explicitly block the transition away from fossil fuels. An example of the latter is Houston-based oil firm Occidental Petroleum’s promotion of CCS and direct air capture (DAC) as tools to further its oil production and give the industry a “license to continue to operate for 60, 70, 80 years,” according to an Energy Mix article.

Internal communications from oil majors like BP and Shell indicate that the oil and gas industry supports CCS because it could extend the fossil fuel era and allow for greater use of oil and gas “across the energy transition and beyond,” as DeSmog previously reported

This position conflicts with expert guidance from the IPCC and the IEA. In its 2022 Working Group III report on climate mitigation, the IPCC states that global fossil fuel use “must decline substantially by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C,” and cautions that only a fraction of available fossil fuel reserves can be used consistent with mitigation goals, even when paired with CCS. The IEA warns in a new report titled The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions that the industry faces “a moment of truth” regarding its role in the energy transition and that CCS is “not a way to retain the status quo.” 

Need to Let Go of CCS “Illusions”

“The industry needs to commit to genuinely helping the world meet its energy needs and climate goals – which means letting go of the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture are the solution,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement

The InfluenceMap report further identifies three common claims in corporate CCS advocacy that conflict with science and available evidence. These include claims that CCS allows for continued oil and gas expansion, that the technologies are beneficial for jobs and communities, and that CCS is central to meeting global climate goals. Such narratives have the effect of “misdirecting policy attention away from fossil fuel phase-out, and enabling policy and investment decisions based on ‘business-as-usual’ assumptions for the oil and gas sector,” the report argues. 

Steven Feit, senior attorney and legal and research manager in the Fossil Economy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, told DeSmog that CCS proponents often misrepresent the IPCC’s position on CCS. “The IPCC has made it clear that the pathways with the greatest chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius are those that have no or marginal use of CCS,” he said. The idea that CCS is central to IPCC recommendations is misleading, he added 

Many governments, however, appear to be buying into the claims touted by the fossil fuel sector and other CCS advocates. InfluenceMap’s analysis also finds that CCS policy positions and communications from most of the 21 governments assessed, which include the G20 nations plus the COP28 host country, the United Arab Emirates, are also misaligned with science and are similar to the CCS positions of fossil fuel companies. 

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE climate envoy who also heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has suggested that climate action should focus on curtailing fossil fuel emissions, not fossil fuels themselves, a position that ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods recently backed

The idea that CCS can fix fossil fuels to allow for them to be used without the harmful emissions, Feit said, is “dangerous and misguided” and “simply not true.” 

“We have seen over and over again, carbon capture and storage has overpromised and under-delivered, failing to meet targets of all kinds and demonstrating its inability to meaningfully address or reduce emissions from fossil fuel combustion or other sources of emissions,” he said. 

Basheer of InfluenceMap suggested that fossil fuel companies’ promotion of CCS is a new form of climate denial and disinformation. 

“In the past, fossil fuel companies have attempted to undermine public trust in the science of what causes climate change,” she said in a press release, “but now the focus has shifted to spreading confusion about the science of climate change solutions.” 

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Dana is an environmental journalist focusing on climate change and climate accountability reporting. She writes regularly for DeSmog covering topics such as fossil fuel industry opposition to climate action, climate change lawsuits, greenwashing and false climate solutions, and clean transportation.

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