Fuel firms could meet cost of climate change

A simple scheme in which fossil fuel producers pay to store greenhouse gas emissions from their products could help meet climate targets set out in the Paris Agreement, experts say.

Capture of an ever-increasing percentage of carbon emissions, and requiring fossil fuel producers to directly pay for storage away from the atmosphere, could help meet the terms of the 2015 deal.

In the Agreement, governments worldwide signed-up to net-zero emissions.

Storing carbon dioxide emissions deep below ground – in a technique known as carbon capture and storage – can help limit the amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere and limit climate change.

This and other technologies could enable net emissions of zero by mid-century, scientists say, in a report as part of a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Tackling warming

In their study, University of Edinburgh researchers have analysed options to reduce future carbon emissions and to re-capture emitted carbon.

Excess greenhouse gases can be stored by chemical reactions to make weathered rocks, by enhancing the carbon content of soils, or by injecting as liquid carbon dioxide deep below ground.

These proven methods are secure for thousands of years into the future, and can be controllable to reduce climate warming.

Such technological solutions are operating in many countries, but the speed of construction is 100 times too slow to meet the 1.5C climate challenge, research shows.

Direct action

Analysis of political policy methods shows that pricing carbon, or trading permits to pollute, are not effective enough at the speed of action needed.

Instead, fossil fuel producers – oil, gas and coal companies – can be given obligations to store the excess emissions from their products, through certificates of carbon storage issued by Governments.

This direct action would rapidly deliver direct results at low cost, the study found.

Global emissions of greenhouse gases are larger than ever and continuing to increase, in spite of growth in clean energies and efficiency of use.

Limiting climate warming will reduce risks of food shortages in emerging nations, bring economic benefit to low income countries and retain more natural land available for plants and animals.

Carbon storage is a reliable remedy that the world needs to embrace if we continue to over-extract fossil fuels. Carbon storage can be embedded into our existing industries with very little change - the alternative, to allow ever-increasing climate change, is much worse.

Professor Stuart HaszeldineSchool of GeoSciences

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