by Aiste Orentas
Image: CO2 capture and storage plant built in Thompsons, Texas (via: The New York Times)
Pressures to strengthen climate commitments and clean energy initiatives among top-emitting countries have increased as the race toward achieving 'net-zero' carbon emissions by mid-century continues. It will be my aim in this op-ed to discuss the issues associated with carbon capture and storage (C.C.S.) technology and to emphasize the importance of the United States prioritizing renewable energy in order to combat climate change and fulfill its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Ranked the second largest emitter, comprising 12.5% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions according to the World’s Resources Institute, the United States has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% before 2030 and reach ‘net-zero’ by 2050 under the Paris Agreement. This binding treaty is a commitment set by 194 world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or pre-industrial levels and prevent the worst effects of climate change by reducing carbon emission output and shifting towards renewable energy projects.
The United States’ current efforts to fulfill its commitments are being hindered by the government's conflict of interest with the fossil fuel industry – through the subsidization of carbon capture and storage technology (C.C.S) – a technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources and pumps them deep underground as a way to eliminate it entering the atmosphere. Coincidently, when introduced over a decade ago, its largest funders happen to be major supporters of the fossil fuel industry as it allows for the continued extraction of oil and burning of fossil fuels – like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
This counterproductive technology was a signature component of the $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act President Biden signed into law in 2021, with lawmakers across party lines promising it will help America meet its climate goals. Not only does this technology waste billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, but it enables the continuation of oil and natural gas production at a time when the world should be ending its dependence on fossil fuels. The IRA also includes provisions to further spur decarbonization of the economy by increasing and extending what is commonly referred to as 45Q tax credits. There was over $1 billion worth of 45Q tax credits awarded in 2021 as an incentive for these projects, many of which are greenwashing operations, yet majority of them ended up shutting down due to high operation costs, cheaper alternatives such as renewables, and lack of data showing meaningful carbon dioxide reduction. The Texas Clean Energy C.C.S. projects is an example of this, a project that received over half-billion dollars in funding, yet ultimately abandoned. Surges of this greenwashing technology continues to trend according to the Global CCS Institute, as 12 other C.C.S projects have shut down – burning billions of dollars of taxpayer money when it could have been allocated to a more substantial alternative such as the building of renewable energy infrastructure.
As the renewable energy sector (such as solar and wind) continues to mature, it’s not only shown to be the most cost effective power generation source over the years but has ramped up energy output, providing promising results to meet United States Economy demands. Since the mid-200’s, solar and wind projects have reduced 50% for onshore and 85% for utility-scale solar photovoltaics globally excluding tax subsidization initiatives, and have displaced roughly 35 times as much CO2 every year over the global history of C.C.S combined. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global renewable production is projected to increase more than 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 GW – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined; by 2050 estimating to account for around 95% of the world’s energy reliance. Though initial upfront costs are substantial, allocating funds to renewable technology to reduce climate change impacts could save yearly global costs around $4 trillion dollars by 2030 according to the United Nations.
Exacerbated market shocks caused by the geopolitical Russo-Ukrainian war are the wake-up calls the United States and the rest of the world needed to steer away from fossil fuel dependency. C.C.S is evidently counterproductive to this transition and it’s imperative that the United States reallocates its budgets aimed towards independent sources that are less susceptible to political and market influences (such as renewables), if fulfilling its mid-century ‘net-zero’ emission targets are to ever become a reality.