Can fossil fuel companies be forced to remove planet-warming carbon pollution from the atmosphere? It would be a cheaper and fairer solution to the climate crisis, the researchers argue in a new paper.
They suggest, in research published yesterday, that the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)—a policy tool often used to deal with waste—should be extended to the oil, gas, and coal industries.
The study said that pushing fossil fuel companies to use technologies to suck carbon out of the air and bury it back in the ground would be a cost-effective carbon removal strategy.
“It would also mean that the main beneficiary of rising fossil fuel prices, the fossil fuel industry itself, is playing its part in addressing the climate challenge,” said the paper, which was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
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The study’s authors, who include scientists and experts in Britain and the Netherlands as well as a former director of ExxonMobil, said the paper was a response to the energy crisis and potential lessons for the challenge of reaching net zero emissions.
“We need to start a conversation about how to redirect this huge amount of money that is currently being simply poured into fossil fuel rents to tackle the climate problem,” said co-author Miles Allen, a professor at the University of Oxford.
“We have to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels.”
geological net zero
To do this, he said, requires a “geological net zero” — for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels, one ton of the greenhouse gas must be sucked out of the atmosphere and permanently returned to Earth.
The authors propose that all extractors and importers of oil, gas and coal be required to eliminate an increasing proportion of the carbon dioxide from their activities and products – reaching 100% by 2050.
This will require increased use of technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the source of the emission or directly from the air and store it permanently in the ground.
While there are projects that do this already, these aren’t on anything like the scale needed. The world’s largest direct air capture facility, operated by the Swiss company Climeworks, removes in a year what humanity emits in a few seconds.
But the authors argue that the economy will change if the fossil fuel sector is forced to rely on technology.
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Industry is “capable” of removing carbon dioxide.
Hugh Hilferty, a co-author of the study and a former employee of oil giant ExxonMobil, said the industry is “capable” of removing carbon dioxide.
Calling for regulation, such as rules banning lead in gasoline, he told reporters at a news conference: “What is lacking today is a feasibility study and motivation to implement it.”
Hannah Chalmers, Reader at Sustainable Energy Systems at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research, said EPR would be a “game-changer” in providing affordable low-carbon energy.
Plans for 2024
U.S. oil and gas company Occidental last year announced plans to build what the company said would be a larger direct air capture project by 2024 in the U.S. Permian Basin in a Texas oil field, with a capacity of 1 million tons per year to remove carbon dioxide.
The Paris Agreement calls for a limit to global warming below 2°C, and most countries have signed up to a more ambitious limit of 1.5°C. To meet this challenge, UN climate experts said last year that even under the most aggressive carbon reduction scenarios, several billion tons of carbon dioxide each year would need to be extracted from the atmosphere by 2050.
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