Could fossil fuel companies be forced to remove planet-warming carbon pollution from the atmosphere? Researchers argue in a new paper that it would be a more economical and fair solution to the climate crisis.
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 from the air and rebury it in the ground would be a cost-effective decarbonization strategy.
“It would also mean that the main beneficiary of high fossil fuel prices, the fossil fuel industry itself, plays its part in addressing the climate challenge,” said the paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
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The study’s authors, including scientists and experts from the UK and the Netherlands, as well as a former ExxonMobil manager, said the paper was a response to the energy crisis and possible lessons for the challenge of reaching zero net emissions.
“We need to start a conversation about how we redirect this colossal amount of money that is currently simply injected into fossil fuel rents to address the climate problem,” said co-author Myles Allen, a professor at the University of Oxford.
“We will have to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels.”
‘Geological net zero’
Doing so, he said, requires a “geological net zero” — for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted by a fossil fuel, one ton of greenhouse gas would need to be sucked out of the atmosphere and permanently returned to the ground .
The authors propose that all oil, gas and coal extractors and importers be required to account for an increasing proportion of the carbon dioxide generated by their activities and products, up to 100% by 2050.
This would require increasing use of technologies to extract carbon dioxide at the emission source or directly from the air and store it permanently in the soil.
Although there are already projects that do this, these do not have the necessary scale. The world’s largest direct air capture facility, run by Swiss-based Climeworks, removes in a year what humanity emits in a few seconds.
But the economy would change if the fossil fuel sector were forced to rely on the technology, the authors argue.
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Industry is “capable” of removing carbon dioxide.
Hugh Helferty, co-author of the study and a former employee of oil giant ExxonMobil, said the industry is “capable” of removing carbon dioxide.
“What’s missing today is the business case, the motivation to run it,” he told reporters at a news conference, calling for regulation, such as rules banning lead in gasoline.
Hannah Chalmers, a reader in Sustainable Energy Systems at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the research, said the EPR would be a “game changer” for providing affordable, low-carbon energy.
Last year, U.S. oil and gas major Occidental announced plans to build by 2024 what the company said would be the largest direct air capture project in the U.S. Permian Basin. United in the Texas oil field, with an annual carbon dioxide removal capacity of one million tons.
The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global warming to 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 tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be removed each year from the atmosphere in 2050.
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