Technological carbon capture is a “dangerous distraction” that will only delay the transition off fossil fuels, “despite occupying centre stage in the ‘net-zero’ climate plans trumpeted by the United States, Canada, and other countries”, more than 500 organizations are warning this week, in an open letter to political leaders published simultaneously in the Washington Post and the Hill Times.
“We don’t need to fix fossil fuels; we need to ditch them,” the letter states [pdf]. “CCS is unnecessary,” when renewable energy sources are cheaper and cleaner than fossil fuels, and the technology “does not work,” despite the “billions of taxpayer dollars wasted on CCS to date.”
A 15-page PDF addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and four cabinet ministers includes an 11-page list of signatories from Canada, the U.S., and beyond.
Although CCS featured prominently in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget earlier this year, and “shows up in government spending programs, and bills pending before Congress and Parliament, carbon capture is not a climate solution,” writes the U.S. Center for International Environmental Law. “On the contrary, investing in carbon capture delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels and other combustible energy sources. It poses significant new environmental, health, and safety risks, particularly to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already overburdened by industrial pollution, dispossession, and the impacts of climate change.”
The open letter warns that carbon capture is inconsistent with principles of environmental justice, listing a menu of dangers that are “systematically overlooked” in discussions around CCS development.
“Transporting and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) involves a massive network of perilous pipelines connected to underground injection sites, each with their own set of dangers,” it states. “Pipelines can leak or rupture; compressed CO2 is highly hazardous upon release and can result in the asphyxiation of humans and animals. Underground storage poses additional risks, such as potential leakage, contamination of drinking water, and stimulation of seismic activity. These hazards apply to all the current and proposed variants utilizing CCS technologies.”
Moreover, nearly 80% of the carbon captured world-wide is used to pump more fossil fuels out of the ground through the process known as enhanced oil recovery. That means carbon capture “is parasitic on the underlying sources of emissions to which it is attached,” the letter says. “Putting carbon capture technology on greenhouse gas-emitting facilities enables those facilities to continue operating, effectively providing those emitters with a licence to pollute indefinitely.”
At best, the letter adds, CCS “captures only a fraction of carbon emissions and fails to address other harmful pollution from fuel combustion, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), as well as other contaminants from the underlying activities to which CCS was applied.”