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What Role for “Negative Emissions”? IE-NETs submission to the Irish Citizens’ Assembly

posted Aug 11, 2017, 4:47 AM by Paul Price

The following is the on-line, plain-text summary of the IE-NETs Project Team submission as submitted to the Irish Citizens’ Assembly for its upcoming consideration of the question: How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change?
The full submission is available to view here on our Documents page (and also from the IE-NETs resource page in  EPA SAFER-Data).

How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change: What Role for “Negative Emissions”?

Ireland and all nations agreed in Paris to act on “best available science” and “on the basis of equity” to urgently limit further emissions of greenhouse gases. The best available science tells us clearly that the climate change threat, due to human activities, is real and potentially overwhelming unless urgent and sustained emission cuts are made worldwide.

Failing to hold to the Paris temperature goals would risk climate change impacts on a scale that could overwhelm any possibility of effective adaptation. Climate change profoundly threatens the security and welfare of younger generations already living today, in Ireland and globally. Ireland’s per person emissions are currently among the highest in the world. Fairness and justice suggests that we have a particular obligation to reduce them earlier and more rapidly than others.

While the immediate focus of climate action is rightly on quickly reducing current sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the danger is now so severe that it is prudent to also start exploring the possibility of actively reversing the damage done to date: that is, removing greenhouse gases that are already accumulating to dangerous levels in the atmosphere, through some form of “negative emissions”.

Our project is looking at the prospects for early deployment of such negative emissions technologies in Ireland. Preliminary analysis suggests the following:

  • Increasing carbon storage in soils and standing trees is worthwhile and should be promoted. However, it  remains vulnerable to losses with continued global warming and if land use management changes.

  • Early deployment, at significant scale, of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), including the development of a first national carbon dioxide (CO2) storage facility is an essential first step for several proposed negative emission technologies. In the short term, it might quickly deliver substantial reduction of emissions from conventional fossil fuel energy sources.

  • BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) might provide useful energy output while also achieving nett removal of CO2: however this potentially involves intense land use competition and remains highly speculative and uncertain. Nonetheless, Ireland’s immediate bioenergy development should not create barriers to future BECCS deployment (should focus on use in large, CCS compatible, combustion plants). There are clear advantages to indigenous, short rotation, energy crops (e.g., miscanthus, willow etc.).

  • Direct Air Capture of CO2 combined with CCS (DACCS) may also be feasible, without the intrinsic land use challenges of BECCS; but it requires large scale supply of very low carbon energy. If configured to support flexible demand management, this might be complementary to overall decarbonisation of Ireland’s electricity system through the use of intermittent renewable sources (particularly wind).

  • Future negative emission policy options are likely strongly assisted by early low-carbon electrification, at large scale, of both heating and transport.

In conclusion, Ireland has opportunities to lead in early demonstration and deployment of a variety of negative emissions technologies. However, such uncertain and speculative technologies are no alternative to the hard choices of early, deep, and permanent reductions in gross emissions, beginning without delay.