Reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) could release an extra 86 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere between 2020 and 2050, finds a new analysis published today by the think tank Climate Analytics.

The report calculates the additional emissions that could result from continued fossil fuel use excused by reliance on CCS. It highlights the level of risk should the technology continue to underperform, consistent with the industry’s record. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends capture rates of around 95%.

If carbon capture rates only reach 50% rather than 95%, and upstream methane emissions are reduced to low levels, this would pump 86 billion tonnes of GHG into the atmosphere – equivalent to more than double the global CO2 emissions in 2023.

Opening up ‘abated’ fossil fuels risks pushing the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C warming limit out of reach, particularly considering the expansion of oil and gas projects presently promoted around the world.

“The term ‘abated’ is being used as a trojan horse to allow fossil fuels with dismal capture rates to count as climate action. ‘Abated’ may sound like harmless jargon, but it’s actually language deliberately engineered and heavily promoted by the oil and gas industry to create the illusion we can keep expanding fossil fuels,” says report author Claire Fyson of Climate Analytics.

The report finds that discussions around ‘abatement’ are creating the false impression that CCS can enable the ongoing widespread use of fossil fuels whilst still meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. However, scenarios that achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit in a sustainable manner show a near complete phase out of fossil fuels by around 2050 with only a tiny amount of fossil CCS.

“We need to cut through the smoke and mirrors of “abated” fossil and keep our eyes fixed on the goal of 1.5ºC. That means slashing fossil fuel production by around 40% this decade, and a near complete phase out of fossil fuels by around 2050,” says Dr Neil Grant of Climate Analytics.

The report was released as governments meet at the UN climate summit in Dubai today to discuss carbon management. The IEA has consistently downgraded its estimation of the role of CCS in the energy transition, assuming 38% less in its 2023 projections compared to 2021. This is due to the decrease in cost of renewable energy and the greater potential for alternatives to fossil fuels in industry.

“The false promises of ‘abated’ fossil fuels risks climate finance being funnelled to fossil projects, particularly oil and gas, and will greenwash the ‘unabatable’ emissions from their final use, which account for 90% of fossil oil and gas emissions,” added Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics.