COP26 Observer Blog Day 5: is there a place for CCS and hydrogen in our net-zero society?

When the Australia Pavilion at COP26 opened on Monday morning, it had at its heart a large bright blue model showcasing a purported climate change solution, complete with information panels and flashing lights. By Wednesday morning, the display was gone.

So what happened?

Now-removed CCS display in Australian Pavilion

The display showed carbon capture and storage in action. CCS is a process whereby emissions from industry or power generation are ‘captured’ and then injected into geological structures to keep them out the atmosphere. However, Twitter users and environmental activists in the Blue Zone quickly cottoned on to the fact the display was provided by Santos, one of the largest oil and gas producers in Australia and one which has faced criticism for a lack of action on climate change. The story was quickly picked up by a number of media outlets, who questioned why a fossil fuel company was front and centre on a national pavilion at urgent climate change negotiations.

The reaction to the Santos display goes right to the heart of a huge criticism that is levelled at the place of CCS, hydrogen, and other ‘net zero’ technologies in COP26. Namely, that as these technologies require the expertise of companies that have been involved in oil and gas production, they are simply a distraction to allow high-emitting industrial players to continue ‘business as usual’ for as long as possible. Opponents may have a point. There is ample evidence that oil and gas majors have been engaged for decades in active and deliberate efforts to spread doubt about human-induced climate change, and to delay countermeasures that may harm their business model. Given this track record, why should we trust these companies to act in the interests of the planet from now on?

Hydrogen society model in Japan Pavilion

On the other hand, it’s clear that some nations are putting a lot of faith in these net zero technologies to balance climate imperatives with social and economic challenges. Japan’s Prime Minister stressed the need for hydrogen, ammonia and carbon capture in his high-level speech given Japan’s limited natural resources, and I heard the Canadian Minister for Natural Resources in a side-event talking about how hydrogen might give much-needed jobs to workers in Canada’s oil and gas sectors. The Saudi Arabian pavilion today ran an ominously-titled session called ‘A Realist Approach to Carbon Management.’ Whether we like it or not, it’s therefore clear that some of the high-emitters are betting big on CCS, hydrogen and similar technologies.

Although CCS and hydrogen have not yet been deployed at scale, there is definitely ambition and finance to make them work. Getting buy-in from wider society may, however, prove more tricky.

‘A Realist Approach to Carbon Management’

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