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The emission of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere could have been avoided!

Nearly 60% of CO2 emissions are due to the burning of coal and gas, and the contribution of this sector is unfortunately not about to decrease: in 2022, the construction of new coal and gas power plants added more than 457 and 615 gigawatts of capacity, respectively[1]. With a 50-year lifespan, coal-fired power plants alone will produce 175 Gt of CO2 by 2040[2]. If the emissions from new gas-fired power plants are added, the figure rises to around 300 Gt of CO2.

To stay below 1.5°C, our carbon budget is about 400 Gt, barely more than the future emissions from coal and gas power plants!

Figure 1 : CO2 emissions from coal and gas power plants in 2020[3] and total carbon capture and storage (CCS)capacity (coal and gas power plants, cement and steel production, hydrogen production from fossil fuels, waste incineration)[4].

However, techniques for capturing and storing the CO2 (CCS[5]) emitted by coal and gas power plants have existed for more than 20 years, with an efficiency of 95% reduction at the end of the stack (60% reduction if the entire life cycle of the capture and sequestration installations is considered)[4].

But these technologies are still underused to combat the climate crisis: from more than 29,000 coal or gas-fired power plants[6]; only 2 are equipped with CCS[2].

How could this solution be neglected when we are trying to reduce our emissions by all means?

One reason is of course economic: installing capture and storage systems is very expensive. Massive deployment would cost nearly $1000 billion[2]. It is also regulatory: there are no regulations at global and/or national level requiring that new power plants, or old ones, be equipped with this technology. However, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), CCS can be retrofitted on existing plants[7], which could provide an additional 360 Gt reduction of CO2 over the next 5 decades (with a 60% reduction thanks to CCS).

Finally, what has considerably limited the adoption of these technologies is the fierce opposition of certain lobbies who consider that authorizing them is tantamount to giving the right to continue polluting. The bottom line is that the use of gas and coal to make electricity is responsible for the vast majority of the greenhouse gases we have emitted over the past 40 years. And if nothing is done to enforce this solution, the contribution of the electricity sector will continue to weigh heavily on our carbon footprint!

To achieve significant results, it is not even necessary to impose this technology on all coal and gas power plants. It would be sufficient to focus on the world's top 5% polluters, which together account for almost 73% of emissions from this sector6.

According to the IEA, carbon capture and sequestration could contribute around 15% of the global reduction in CO2 emissions by 2060. It would then be the third most effective lever after energy efficiency (40%) and the development of renewable energies (35%).

While CCS techniques should not slow down the large-scale deployment of low-carbon energies, such as renewables, they have a crucial role to play in limiting emissions from emerging economies, which may not have immediate access in large quantities to low-carbon technologies.

Let's act local but think global!

[1] [2] IEA. The role of CCUS in low-carbon power systems (2020). [3] [4] UNECE. CARBON CAPTURE, USE AND STORAGE (CCUS). (2021) [5] Do not confuse CCS, which consists of capturing CO2 at the end of the chimney of coal and gas power plants, with BECC (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) and DACC (Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage). See note 1 for more details. [6] Grant, D., Zelinka, D. & Mitova, S. Reducing CO2 emissions by targeting the world's hyper-polluting power plants. 106. Environ Res Lett 16, 094022 (2021). [7] IEA. Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage. CCUS in clean energy transitions. (2020).

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