EU Policy. Industry backers say Europe needs a carbon capture and storage tsar

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (centre) tours the Northern Lights CCS project site in 2022 after opening a visitor centre.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (centre) tours the Northern Lights CCS project site in 2022 after opening a visitor centre. Copyright Arne Reidar Mortensen / Equinor
Copyright Arne Reidar Mortensen / Equinor
By Robert Hodgson
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With real-world development lagging far behind the rhetoric of policy makers in Brussels, industry groups and big oil agree the EU needs a 'CCS tsar' to make the case for a climate solution that still attracts a lot of mistrust


The EU should appoint a dedicated carbon capture and storage (CCS) envoy, say supporters of the climate fix where carbon dioxide captured at source and pumped underground for permanent storage, but critics fear a renewed focus on the technology merely distracts from the need to stop burning fossil fuels.

Brussels-based trade association CCS Europe – whose members include US energy equipment firm GE and oilfield services company Baker Hughes alongside industries such as cement production and waste incineration – made its call on Wednesday (15 May) as it presented an action plan outlining what it says the EU will need to do to meet its climate targets.

“Political leadership from the Commission is required and an appointed representative with expert knowledge could provide the commitment that no Commissioner will have the time to offer,” said Chris Davies, a former UK MEP who steered the EU’s first CCS legislation through the European Parliament and now chairs the lobby group.

The European arm of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP), which represents such petroleum giants as BP, Total and ExxonMobil, supported the call for a new CCS tsar. “We think the role would be very useful to liaise with member states at political level,” head of strategy Nareg Terzian told Euronews.

The EU, in its recently adopted Net-Zero Industry Act, requires such firms to develop storage sites – pilot projects have typically used depleted oil and gas fields – with an annual injection capacity by 2030 of 50 million tonnes, way beyond anything currently in place or under construction.

The IOGP recognises that the industry is not on track to meet the target, which Terzian described as “very challenging”. The petroleum industry lobby’s own figures suggest existing plans, most of which are far from a final investment decision, would amount to a capacity of only 42MT by the end of the decade.

“Note that the 42 million-tonne figure would assume that all projects in the pipeline go ahead – this not a given,” Terzian said.

The planned initial capacity of the largest storage facility currently under development in Europe – the government-backed Northern Lights project in non-EU petroleum giant Norway – is only 1.5MT a year.

On the capture side of the CCS equation, the picture is similar, Davies acknowledges, noting “various very small pilot projects also around, and scores of projects are said to be very close” while in fact no final investment decision (FID) has been made.

“The main barrier in my view is financial,” Davies said in an email exchange. “There has to be a business case, and there has to be a degree of derisking if investment is to take place.”

But CCS still has something of an image problem. In 2018, the European Court of Auditors concluded that €424m of EU taxpayers money had already been sunk into half a dozen large-scale projects, all of which failed.

While CCS Europe complains of a lack of awareness of carbon capture inside EU governments – with the exception of Denmark and the Netherlands, which have both committed public money to pilot projects – former MEP Davies does not believe its checkered history explains the reluctance to include the technology in national energy and climate plans.

“I don’t think the failures of the past are a factor. Back in 2008, when I was rapporteur for the CO2 Storage Directive, the emphasis was all on coal,” he said, arguing the collapse of the price polluters had to pay for their CO2 emissions under the emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) lay behind the string of abandoned projects.

“The ETS price at €70 is still too low to create a business case on its own,” Davies said. “Without the support of national policymakers CCS projects cannot go forward, but unless they do the climate goals of national policymakers will not be achieved.”

Bellona, a Norwegian think tank that is among a small minority of green NGOs to enthusiastically support carbon capture as a climate mitigation tool, noted that the European Commission envisaged an “immense role” for CCS in its recent communication on Industrial Carbon Management, with 280MT of CO2 predicted to be captured annually by 2040.

“We're urging the member states pick up their part of the bargain and urging all stakeholders, especially civil society, labour unions, and local communities, to shape the rules for its deployment, to ensure it actually materialises,” said Mark Preston Aragonès, Bellona policy director and vice-chair of CCS Europe.

Perhaps more typical of the sceptical position taken by green groups, Climate Action Network Europe industrial policy coordinator Boris Jankowiak told Euronews the “growing hype and noise” around CCS ignores the fact that it has yet to be proven at scale.

“Overreliance on a hypothetical techno-solution with real environmental impacts risks diluting and overshadowing the efforts that should be placed today in scaling up existing, proven and available technologies and techniques to achieve our climate goals,” Jankowiak said.


The climate campaigner said some “mythbusting” was needed about what industries were genuinely unable to abate their carbon emissions, and argued that developing a full-scale carbon capture market would “in most cases…be a delaying tactic to prolong the life of fossil fuels assets that should be phased out as soon as possible”.

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