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The Battle Over Carbon Capture: A Pivotal Debate at the UN Climate Summit

by Anna

Dubai, United Nations — As the United Nations climate summit unfolds in Dubai, the future of fossil fuels takes center stage, with impassioned calls for phasing out oil, gas, and coal resonating among activists, experts, and nations. Concurrently, energy companies and oil-rich nations assert their plans to continue drilling, casting a shadow over the discussions.

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Amidst this dichotomy, the spotlight is on carbon capture and carbon removal technologies, perceived by many as instrumental in meeting net-zero emission goals. However, skeptics question whether these technologies are being overly touted to maintain the status quo.

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International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol, addressing the industry’s role in the transition, emphasized the need to “commit to genuinely helping the world meet its energy needs and climate goals.” He cautioned against relying too heavily on implausibly large-scale carbon capture as a panacea.

Decoding Carbon Capture

Carbon capture involves separating carbon dioxide emissions from industrial facilities, such as coal-fired power plants, and transporting it for underground storage. Seen as a mitigation technology, it aims to halt the rise of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Karl Hausker from the World Resources Institute underscored the significance of carbon capture while advocating for substantial reductions in fossil fuel use.

While there are approximately 40 large-scale carbon capture projects globally, capturing 45 million metric tons annually, critics argue the pace is sluggish. Safety concerns, opposition to CO2 pipelines, and permitting challenges hinder progress. The International Energy Agency acknowledges that the history of carbon capture has been marked by unmet expectations.

The Role of Carbon Removal

In contrast to carbon capture, carbon removal focuses on extracting carbon already present in the atmosphere. Technologies range from restoring forests, a natural form of carbon removal, to deploying methods that directly capture carbon from the air using chemical processes.

Jennifer Pett-Ridge from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory emphasized the necessity of carbon removal during the prolonged transition to clean energy. This becomes crucial for industries challenging to fully decarbonize, such as shipping and aviation.

A Tug-of-War in Progress

Support for carbon capture comes from diverse quarters, including the American Petroleum Institute, which deems it key to cleaner energy use. The Biden administration advocates increased investment, leveraging subsidies and tax benefits to spur private financing.

However, detractors argue that fossil fuel companies are championing carbon capture as a distraction, prolonging the existence of polluting plants. Environmentalists like Shaye Wolf from the Center for Biological Diversity assert that carbon capture should complement policies enforcing reduced fossil fuel use.

As the debate unfolds at the UN climate summit, the question remains: Will carbon capture be a genuine bridge to a sustainable future, or a lifeline for industries resisting change? The world watches as global leaders navigate this delicate balance between technological solutions and systemic transformation.

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