Carbon Capture Is Essential. These Are the Three Steps Governments Need to Take for It to Succeed

To scale up carbon capture, governments need to develop policies that incentivize its widespread use.

Ojas Satham
May 12, 2020

C+S 2020 students are blogging about topics that interest them for Applications in Climate and Society, a core spring class.

Climate change is the biggest threat society faces in the near-term future and humanity needs to draw down its greenhouse gas emissions The solutions to fight climate change range from widespread use of renewable technology to blocking the sun to cool the planet. In 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that it would require a variety of solutions to combat the climate crisis. The report used hundreds of models with different scenarios on how to successfully address climate change. And, virtually every successful scenario had one common factor: capturing carbon and storing it away from the atmosphere.

In order to make this happen, there are three steps governments around the world can take. And they need to take them soon.

Most big technological breakthroughs in the energy industry required massive governmental support. Likewise, in order to scale up carbon capture, there needs to be government policies to help incentivize its widespread use. First and foremost, governments need to expand R&D budgets to invest in carbon capture technology. Nuclear power offers a model to consider. Post-World War II, countries with the ability to make nuclear weapons began to see the possibility of generating electricity. These countries expanded their R&D budget into how to do that, accelerating the use of nuclear power to generate electricity.

The second policy governments need to pursue is setting a fixed price for carbon. If the price of carbon is high, it can make carbon capture and storage cost effective for businesses. In California, the price of carbon stands at $15 per metric ton. This price is too low and there is no incentive for businesses to install carbon capture at their facilities. However, in Norway, the price per metric ton is $50. The U.S. recently passed a tax code that offered $50 per metric ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored. However, that is not enough in today’s climate. If governments are complacent in setting a fair price now, they run the risk of the future price increasing even higher. 

A carbon tax and R&D alone aren’t enough, though. Governments need to set laws mandating that polluting power plants have carbon capture facilities. A good example of how this would help is Germany. In 2000, the government accelerated the solar revolution by mandating that a percentage of electricity come from renewables. The government also set a fixed price for renewables. If this strategy was used on big polluters to set up carbon capture facilities, its effect would be two-fold. It would force polluters to spend money on developing the technology. It would also stop the vicious practice where corporations continuously pollute, buy green energy credits and hold no accountability.

As of 2018, fossil fuels currently account for 80 percent world’s energy consumption. That has us on a path to dangerous climate change. It is imperative to start integrating carbon capture facilities into our energy ecosystem and help preserve our planet.