Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Summit in the Brussels bubble – “Getting it right for Copenhagen”

On 6 October, Forum Europe and the Norway-based Bellona Foundation brought together a room packed with industry players together in luxury hotel in the Brussels EU quarter to talk about EU funding possibilities for CCS and how to make CCS accepted by the public.

A growing range of critics consider carbon capture and storage (CCS) to be an unproven, expensive and dangerous technology based on the idea that CO2 from coal-fired power plants – or other large emitters such as steel works – could be captured and stored underground. Leakages of stored CO2 cannot be excluded, which would have deadly consequences. According to the most ambitious predictions CCS won't be operational early enough to contribute to EU's 2020 goals for CO2 reduction.

The organisers of the 'summit' have a very pro-CCS position. CCS, says Paal Frisvold of the Brussels office of the Bellona Foundation, should ‘find a role in Copenhagen’, not only to clean up new coal plants emissions, but also those from other energy intensive industries like steel, cement and fertilisers. This vision is shared by co-organiser Forum Europe, previously one of the industry-funded think tanks based in Bibliothèque Solvay and run by Giles Merritt, but recently transformed into an event organising company.

CCS means big business, especially since the EU concluded its CCS directive last year and it was decided that that the income generated by of 300 million EU emission allowances will be invested in CCS. The directive says that also ‘innovative renewables’ can be financed with these allowances, but according to MEP Chris Davies, a staunch CCS champion, this clause was introduced just to ‘sell the package’ to some member states that do not have great stakes in coal.

Industry present at the conference complimented the European Commission and Parliament for “having come a long way” in supporting CCS, but demand more EU funding. Industry also wants CCS to be endorsed at the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen. Their goal is for CCS to become eligible for funding from the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). But Chris Davies MEP from his side complained that a dinner with UK electricity producers a few days earlier proved that they were “grossly adverse to taking any risk”.

Gijs van Breda Vriesman of Shell, member of the European Technology Platform on CCS (a Commission initiative for allocating EU research funding), also known as the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), asked the Commission to come up with the money for the 300 million allowances ‘upfront’, which according to Shell would double their value.

One of the key points of critique however, is that CCS will simply be used to legitimise the building of new coal fired plants, which Davies said to oppose. Jan Panek of DG TREN, speaking on behalf of Commissioner Piebalgs, made it clear that coal, “Europe’s indigenous energy resource”, will stay an important energy source for the time to come. Another critique is that pumping huge amounts of money into CCS will divert investments away from renewables like solar energy. Shell announced last March to scale back its renewable energy business for example.

One of the major issues discussed was how to create public acceptance of this technology; the term ‘acceptance’ itself became a focus. It was agreed that it was a ‘difficult sell’ to people, especially to those whowill be the first generation to actually live above CO2-storage sites. This is reflected in strong local resistance against a CCS project near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, for example. It was also agreed that the oil industry itself was not the right actor to organise the ‘public consultations’ that are seen as necessary. Luc de Marliave of oil giant Total explained how the company has hired a consultancy to organise the consultations for their pilot project in Southern France, and set up a ‘scientific advisory committee’ to ‘assist Total in science developments for the CCS project’.

A ‘basic rule’ adhered to by Total, said De Marliave, is ‘asymmetric decision making’: “All participants in the public dialogue do not take part in decision making; but all participants in decision making do take part in the dialogue”.

Sanjeev Kumar of WWF, the only invited NGO to speak, said that industry would ‘shoot itself in the foot’ if they would stage a ‘conflict between NGOs’, exploiting the different positions on CCS between WWF and Greenpeace (which opposes CCS). He warned that when dealing with grassroots groups, “If you get it wrong once, you will never be able to rectify it”.

Jan Panek (EC) proposed to speak of ‘public awareness’ rather than ‘acceptance’, as “we are not forcing something onto the public. They will easily understand the benefits of CCS”. This was echoed by the chair of the discussion Bellona Foundation, who said that CCS supporters should take an example in Napoleon: “He took the word ‘problem’ out of the dictionary and replaced it with ‘challenge’. Now we should abandon the term ‘public acceptance’ and talk about ‘public awareness’”. Leaves us to wonder: will CCS end up just as abandoned as the infamous frenchman?

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