The COP28 summit is due to kick off tomorrow. I am sure that the inboxes of anyone involved in the energy and climate world have already been flooded with event invites. The media will also soon be flooded with coverage asking the question: “is the world on track to keep warming below 1.5°C?”
Sadly, the answer to this question – asked every year ahead of the COP – will be the same: no. A UN report ahead of the summit has found that while emissions are projected to stop increasing by 2030, they are still not in the meaningful downward trend they need to be in order to reach 1.5°C. This conclusion was backed up by World Resources Institute’s State of Climate Action Report which found, of their 42 indicators, half were considered “well off track” for achieving 2030 targets.
This should be a clarion call for the 195 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement to be bolder in reducing emissions. But it should also be a clarion call to be bolder on emissions removals. It would be unfortunate if year after year we are told we are off course for achieving the Paris Agreement targets, but do not progress solutions that can correct emissions overshoots.
There are a handful of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDRs) technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere. All will be needed but Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is one of the most promising because its technological development is more certain, it is the cheapest of the technological solutions, and as the CCS technology will be installed on a bioenergy unit, it creates a by-product in the form of renewable energy – addressing emissions reduction and removals at the same time.
But investing in BECCS is about much more than just preparing for the risk of emissions overshoots. It is an essential climate mitigation tool. Even if the world went as far as possible on emission reductions, there will still be residual hard-to-abate emissions that will need compensating. The European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change estimates that, in the EU, this could be as high as 1,165 Mt CO2e in 2050. This makes investment in BECCS, and other carbon removal technologies, essential.
Thankfully, there is work underway. Sweden and Denmark have already announced BECCS projects that could deliver up to 1.2 Mt of CO2 removal per year. And the Netherlands, UK, and U.S. are on the march to do the same. However, to ensure there is enough negative emissions capacity to achieve the Paris Agreement targets, that march needs to become a sprint.
This issue is sometimes presented as a choice between emissions reductions or emission removals, though in reality it is not a choice at all. Both need investment simultaneously and they need that investment now. The UK-based Coalition of Negative Emissions has shown that the current pipeline of negative emissions projects has a shortfall of 80% just to meet the negative emissions demand in 2025. Further, the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change noted that investment in new capacity needs to increase at a rate of over 50% per year at a global level. A failure to invest now will make a course correction later on harder and much more expensive. This year negative emissions must be top of the agenda at COP28, and the clock is ticking.
About the author
Director, Policy and Regulation Europe, Enviva
Andrew Georgiou is the Director of Policy and Regulation in Europe for Enviva, the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets. With almost 15 years of experience working in politics and public policy he leads Enviva’s engagement with policymakers across Europe. He sits on the Board of Bioenergy Europe and takes part in a number of working groups on a broad range of biomass policy issues affecting the EU and UK.