The world uses a lot of fossil fuels - and there's
plenty left to burn, if we want to - with all of the world's major
economies still relying on coal, oil, and gas to provide most of
their power. But the more countries burn, the more difficult it
becomes to constrain global warming.
The trouble is, it's difficult to quickly swap a
fossil fuel based energy system for one that's low-carbon. It takes
considerable time and money to replace coal and gas with nuclear
There is a technology that promises to allow continued
fossil fuel use while providing emissions cuts, however - carbon
capture and storage (CCS). In theory, CCS technology can capture
emissions from fossil fuel power plants and lock them underground.
That could allow power plants to burn fossil fuels with a fraction
of the emissions.
For energy companies and governments wanting to tackle
climate change, that's good news. But the bad news is that CCS has
so far struggled to get off the ground, and is yet to be proven in
a full scale power plant.
After nearly a decade of false starts, the UK
government this week announced it was taking another stab at
nudging the CCS industry forward, allocating
£100 million to two new demonstration projects. And after
a long series of disappointments from UK CCS, it's promising that
this time, things will be different.
It's increasingly likely that the world will need
carbon capture and storage in a big way if it's going to reduce
Research by thinktank Carbon Tracker suggests
countries have already used about two-thirds of
the fossil fuel allowance that will give a good chance of
preventing more than two degrees of global temperature rise. That
leaves a lot more coal, gas and oil in the ground than Carbon
Tracker says can be burned.
And that, in theory, is where CCS comes in. Government
Committee on Climate Change says if the UK is still
burning gas in 2030 - a likely proposition - it will be impossible
to meet the country's climate targets without CCS.