Don’t you ever contemplate your future dream house or future career path, or that one thing that you should definitely start doing (but, of course, not today)? Well, our global brian of scientists and policy-makers, the IPCC, are also discussing exactly these things, but in the context of the whole civilization. How our house, the Earth, will look like in the future if warm the climate? How our future careers, our lifestyle, depends on our production and consumption?
And, of course, lets not forget the ambition to definitely start with deep emission reduction (but, of course, not today)
Already since the the mid 19th century we have suspected that if we continue with our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, our house will warm up. And now we know for sure that it will continue warming up! So the scientists are now considering who to invite to this house-warming party.
To make it more cool.
What we can see from the latest and most throughout scientific report on what would limiting global warming to safe levels look like (IPCC Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15)) is that Becca is a very welcomed guest. “She will make the party cool as hell!” So who is that girl? No, it is not (Re-)becca Black or Becca Tobin, it’s the BECCS aka Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage. I know it is not that similar, but if you think about it, BECCS could as well be a women because, like a fine lady, this technology is very attractive and smart but, unfortunately, currently unavailable for a date. So should we invite her or look for alternatives?
Currently, BECCS has been bearly tested on large scale. According to the global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, there is only one BECCS system that is used for storing the CO2 back in the underworld: it is the Illinois ADM CCS Facility that uses corn-ethanol biofuel. After a pilot run the subsurface of the area has been considered safe for the storage of CO2. This is why the facility has the permission to be working for a five year period from 2017 to 2022, in which they estimate to store a maximum of 1.1 Mton of CO2 per year. Exciting! However it is not yet proven that BECCS can be successfully upscaled to be an economically viable technology (without even considering biofuel environmental impacts and a plausible increase of CO2 due to land use changes and production of biofuels).
Luckily, carbon dioxide removal does not need to be done by her; there are other strategies how we can mitigate the CO2 emissions, such as direct air capture (DAC; let’s call it Dacy), and land use change (AFOLU – Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use changes but I will call it Alfon, just like my grandfather, due to the long time this idea has been around). Dacy is also unsure about joining the party. While it has been proven to work on “large” scale and a first commercial plant is in use, currently, it is not creating negative emissions. Why? Because the CO2 that is drawn out of the atmosphere is currently delivered to greenhouses, food companies for manifacturing soft drinks, and industry to produce fuels and materials. Furthermore, this “large” scale commercial power plant reduces 900 ton of CO2 per year.
1,1 Mton CO2 per year for Becca and 0,9 Mton CO2 per year from Dacy. It might sound like a lot, but lets consider the bigger picture. In the scenario where no deep societal and economic transformations occur, IPCC recommends that in order to stay under 2 degrees of global warming we will have to remove at lest 10 Gt of CO2 per year by 2050. This is around 1,000,000 (!) times more than these plants can reduce separately, so we would need to install a million of these (accompanied with neutral energy sources) in the next three decades! It will need tremendous amount of work, and investments, and public acceptance.. so what does the IPCC says about this?
To limit the global warming, IPCC considers two CDR options: Becca and Alfon. So we already know that Becca might not show up, but at least Alfon will! Though, he will make the party cool only if we go back to a minimal and mindful consumption of resources, drive full-on with sustainable innovation that decreases the energy demands and create a truly circular economy. We, and all our neighbours wil have to stop the consumption of burgers and nuggets from McDonald’s, chopped-up pineapples in plastic wrappers and aged cheeses from Albert Heijns, crop-tops from Primarks, cheap everything from Actions and Amazons and tickets for holidays from EasyJets. In this scenario, we would also experience a full transformation and minimization of our energy system and through the re/afforestation create substantial environmental benefits. But we would also have to give up some of our luxuries and many wealthy people in power would have to do so too, and they really dont want that.
However, if we continue with our current consumption, methods like Becca and CCS in general will have to be implemented. Consider this – there are new coal-fired power plants being built and planned every year to satisfy the global thirst for energy and products. And besides, there are no optimal alternatives to steel and concrete production, which also creates high CO2 emissions. This probably means that without an interstellar police finally visiting us, these coal plants will provide the additional energy. And the emissions will need to be captured. Besides, CCS technologies for these kind of power plants have already been installed in some places commercially.
IPCC confidently says that, in order to stop the warming without any carbon dioxide removal technologies, such as Becca, we need to start reducing our global emissions well before 2030.. which is RIGHT NOW!
And besides, the ambitions presented by countries under the Paris Agreement will not be sufficient to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees.
So what shall we do?
Who are we going to invite to our house-warming party?
The party is going to happen, but just how cool will it be depends on what we choose today.