Let us start with the basics. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rich countries need to cut emissions 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 – only seven years away – and thereafter reduce emissions by 90 percent in 2050.
To put these numbers into context, meeting our targets would require a 10 % reduction in global emissions, starting today.
Previous reductions of this magnitude have only happened during economic depressions. Russia’s downturn in the early 1990s exemplifies the scale of the challenge. From 1990 to 1995, Russia saw a 37 % emission reduction, under conditions that nobody wants to experience.
This is the scale of the challenge that stands before us. In this transition towards a low-carbon society carbon capture and storage (CCS) can play a key role. Despite its potential, CCS has yet to
prove its worth on a commercial scale and remains an uncertain option – and thus should not be used to justify inaction on climate
Long-term thinking, short-term solutions
However, the irreversible effects of global warming and ocean acidification, some of which we are already witnessing, makes a strong case for urgent action. Not only to address the causes of global warming (fossil energy sources) but also to treat the symptoms (CO2 emissions).
As long as our economies run on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries, the potential of CCS remains a critical tool in the toolkit. Technical challenges aside, the real obstacle for CCS in Europe is the lack of a long-term commercial business case.
As long as the price for carbon pollution is as insignificant as it is today, businesses cannot be expected to invest and develop the technologies we need to address this challenge.
Stricter budget discipline
One of the most sobering findings from the latest IPCC report are the figures for the global “carbon budget”.
If we are to have more than a 50 % chance of keeping planetary warming below 2 degrees above the level of preindustrial times, our carbon budget is 1,000 gigatons CO2. Yet, we have already emitted more than half of that amount and we are currently on the trajectory to hit that limit within 30 years. To set in place the long-term conditions for CCS and other low-carbon technologies, we need a more efficient market framework.
Getting the pricing for a green economy right is a good start in our efforts to exercise climate budget discipline
At the moment neither public policies nor markets reflect the risks of a warmer world. Focussing on the root cause for this, we need to focus our attention on the absence of a price reflecting the actual cost of CO2 in the European Trading Scheme.
Picking the challenge
The role of politicians is not to ‘pick the winners’ between promising technologies – that ought to be left to the market forces. However, politicians play a key role in ‘picking the challenge’ and to stimulate technological development of solutions that can mitigate our current unsustainable levels of CO2-emissions.
To ensure a level playing field for all commercial stakeholders and promising technologies, we ought to focus our effort on making sure that the price of carbon pollution reflects the actual costs.