The European Commission has warned that without substantial investments in carbon capture technologies, the goal of the European Union (EU) becoming carbon-neutral may become unattainable.
The EU has set a target to capture and permanently store 50 million tons of industrial emissions, equivalent to Sweden’s annual emissions, by the end of this decade. However, the Commission believes that this is insufficient and predicts that by 2040, the EU should be able to capture 280 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, roughly the same as Spain’s annual emissions.
This would necessitate large-scale industrial operation of carbon dioxide recovery in a few years, moving beyond the current pilot and study stage. Notably, the EU currently lacks any operational storage facilities for carbon dioxide.
Despite the challenges, the Commission is optimistic that such a leap is feasible and necessary. It views carbon dioxide recovery technology as a pivotal approach to reducing industrial emissions that are hard to prevent through other means. It further suggests that recovering bio-derived emissions could lead to negative emissions, thus reducing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.
The Commission recently unveiled its strategy to hasten the capture of carbon dioxide.
While technological solutions for capturing, transporting, storing, and utilizing carbon dioxide largely exist, they are yet to mature for commercial use. The Commission asserts that technology adoption must be rapidly expedited with innovation support and appropriate incentives, possibly through a reform of the EU emissions trading system.
The Commission further suggests that the EU could establish a carbon dioxide capture target, similar to its renewable energy production goal.
It expects EU member states to include estimates of potential carbon dioxide capture and storage in their climate plans to be submitted later this year.
Critics, however, caution that the Commission’s strategy could jeopardize climate action if it shifts the primary focus away from emission reductions and bolstering natural carbon sinks.
In its calculations, the Commission significantly considers carbon dioxide direct air capture technology, despite its nascent stage and high recovery cost.
Linda Kalcher, the executive director of the Strategic Perspectives think tank, argues that the Commission’s heavy reliance on recovery technology is misguided. She believes the realistic share of carbon dioxide recovery is approximately half of the Commission’s estimate.
The Commission clarifies that recovery technology cannot replace natural carbon sinks like forests. It emphasizes that industrial carbon sequestration complements, rather than replaces, nature’s carbon sinks, which are critical for achieving climate goals.