Comparative assessment and region-specific optimisation of GGR

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London


Meeting the Paris climate change commitments will be extraordinarily challenging, and even if they are met, may require extensive global deployment of greenhouse gas removal (GGR) technologies resulting in net negative emissions.

If certain major emitters do not meet their Paris commitments and/or wider international cooperation is reduced then the trajectory needed to reduce emissions to Paris levels after a delay will be even more severe, potentially leading to the need for even greater reliance on such net negative emissions technologies.

At present, the technical feasibility, economics, implementation mechanisms and wider social and environmental implications of GGR technologies remain relatively poorly understood. It is highly uncertain that GGR technologies can be implemented at the scales likely to be required to avoid dangerous climate change and without causing significant co-disbenefits or unintended consequences.

Our GGR proposal presents a unique combination of a multi-scale assessment of the technical performance of GGR technologies with an analysis of their political economy and social license to operate, with a particular focus on how these elements vary around the world and how such considerations impact region-specific GGR technology portfolios.

Currently, some portray GGR technologies as a panacea and virtually the only way of meeting aggressive climate targets - an essential backstop technology or a 'bridge' to a low-carbon future. One part of our project is to work with the models of the global economy (integrated assessment models) and better reflect these technologies within those models but also to use models at different scales (global, regional, national, laboratory scales) to understand the technologies better. We also seek to better understand how deployment of these technologies interact with the climate system and the carbon cycle and what the implications are for the timings of wide-scale rollout.

By contrast, sceptics have expressed concerns over moral hazard, the idea that pursuing these options may divert public and political attention from options. Some critics have even invoked terms such 'unicorns', or 'magical thinking' to describe the view that many GGR technologies may be illusory. We will seek to understand these divergent framings and explicitly capture what could emerge as important social and political constraints on wide-scale deployment. As with nuclear power, will many environmentalists come to view GGR technologies as an unacceptable option?

Understanding the potential scaling up of GGR technologies requires an understanding of social and political concerns as well as technical and resource constraints and incorporating them in engineering, economic and climate models. This aspect of our proposal necessarily brings together social science, engineering and environmental sciences. What is the biggest challenge to scaling up BECCS for example? Is it the creation of the sustainable biomass supply chain, the deployment of CO2 capture technology or the transport and storage infrastructure that is rate limiting? Or is it more likely the social acceptability of this technology?

Further, we will provide insight into the value of international and inter-regional cooperation in coordinating GGR efforts. For e.g., would it make more sense for the UK to import biomass, convert it to electricity and sequester the CO2, or would it be preferable pay for this to happen elsewhere? Conversely, how might the UK benefit from utilising our relatively well characterised and extensive CO2 storage infrastructure in the North Sea to store CO2 on behalf of both the UK and others? More generally, we will explore how stakeholders in key regions view the suite of GGR technologies.

Finally, we will quantify the option value of GGR - what is the value in early deployment of GGR technologies? How does it provide flexibility in meeting our near term carbon targets?

Planned Impact

Academic impact will be delivered via the publication and presentation of this work in high profile journals and conferences. Importantly, we will publish our core results and conclusions in time to feed into the forthcoming 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Further all models and data sets that are created as a result of this work will be made freely available for download via our website:

Delivering impact beyond the academic community is a core aim of this research. Alongside the academic community, we recognise that key stakeholders in the policy making community, industry and NGOs in addition to the general public are important stakeholders in terms of meeting our ambitious climate change ambitions. We explicitly recognise that these commitments will not be met if the solutions proposed are not affordable and deployable, coherent with government policy and publically acceptable.

To ensure we engage with these communities, we have assembled a Strategic Advisory Board (SAB) which is composed of key members of the policy making community (BEIS, IPCC), industry (Shell, CCSA), national and international institutes (GCCSI, ETI), NGOs (Bellona) and thought leaders from around the world (CRC, CICERO, MIT, Colorado School of Mines, IIASA, the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change).

One pillar of our engagement strategy rests on interacting with our SAB via biannual meetings. In general, one part of these meetings will be held in "update mode" whilst the other will be held in "plenary mode". We intend to operate the plenary meetings in a manner more akin to a small conference, to which, in addition to our SAB members, we would invite other interested parties, such as the other consortia arising from this Call, other researchers from the UK and beyond and key stakeholders with an interest in the future of GGR technologies such as NGOs. The Institute of Chemical Engineers will host events in central London and help contribute to wider dissemination. We will also contribute to the GCCSI international webinar series and work closely with other SAB members with an aim to wider dissemination. IIASA, MCC (and CICERO as part of our SAB) will help with wider dissemination of our work in Europe and SAB members at MIT, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Twente will serve to internationalise the context and further the disseminate the outputs of this research.

Importantly, we will invite key organisations, such as the CCC and IEA GHG R&D program, onto our SAB once the project commences.

In terms of wider public engagement, one important vehicle for this will be the organisation of a side event at COP25 in 2019. At this meeting, we will present the key conclusions of our work and articulate key questions which must be addressed in follow-on efforts. We will continue to lead on relevant events (e.g., recent 1.5 degrees conference at Oxford) and respond to relevant calls for evidence by parliamentary select committees and work streams of learned societies such as the Royal Society. We will also contribute to the regular prominent outreach activities at each of our participating institutions each of which involves numerous key UK and international stakeholders (e.g., EPRG at Cambridge, UCL Energy Institute, Imperial Energy Futures Lab, Oxford Environmental Change Institute, etc).


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