Carbon capture and storage: dos and don’ts

When does it pay off for the climate to capture emissions and pump them underground, and when does it not? Debates around carbon capture and storage (CCS) are as lively as ever, but we need action for climate goals now. With limited time and money, here are the dos and don’ts of this hyped technique that, if not used as a last resort, can simply be another mask for inaction. 

The window opportunity to tackle the climate crisis is rapidly closing. We need all existing tools available to slash carbon emissions and fossil fuel use in the next 15 years, so we have no time nor public money to waste. As a solution to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in carbon sinks, CCS emerged as a hotly debated possibility. However, its deployment tells a story of overpromising and under-delivering. 

Looking into CCS as a priority solution to curb emissions reveals the dirt under the rug. CCS is considered the least efficient and one of the most expensive climate mitigation options. Using it as the main decarbonisation lever will affect the deployment of more cost-effective emission-slashing strategies and risks perpetuating the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – the precise activity it is supposed to tackle.  

These and other questions are keeping the climate-solution space busy, so it’s time for a CCS reality check


Firstly, the role CCS can play for the climate in the upcoming decades is very limited. Even if implemented at its full potential, CCS can only account for 2,4% of the world’s carbon mitigation by 2030 due to its low effectiveness and high cost. For example, capturing and storing the 50M tonnes by 2030 foreseen in the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) will only address 12% of the carbon emissions of refining mineral oil, cement, and iron and steel – the three top carbon emitters in the EU. 

In addition, the ability to capture carbon of such projects is usually overrated, while the costs are generally high and underestimated. The capture ability of CCS is projected only up to 90%, and studies on existing projects show an average of 49%, going as low as 17% – which would leave a lot of harmful emissions in our atmosphere if we were only to rely on CCS to decarbonise climate. Moreover, only fulling the NZIA CCS target would require up to 10,5€ billion. CCS could divert scarce public money from much more effective decarbonisation solutions that are already available and proven to work: circular economy, renewables and energy efficiency. 

Overreliance on CCS can also promote the continued use of fossil fuels and its environmental damage. The business of capturing and storing carbon benefits from a perpetual use of fossil fuels and perpetual emissions, rather than prevention or reduction. The role of CCS is to support climate crisis mitigation, not to turn a problem into a commodity. 


As an expensive and untimely solution, CCS should then only be used for residual and unavoidable emissions and only with permanent storage.  

Unavoidable emissions are the ones generated when no direct emission reduction options are available after the best available techniques are applied, demand-side reduction measures are applied, and the state-of-the-art of technologies are considered. 

Furthermore, if CCS is to play a role in the fight against climate change, its storage must be an effective mitigation measure. In general, a time horizon of multiple centuries is considered as a good definition of permanent storage. Such a long timeframe presents the challenge of setting up monitoring and contingency plans for storage sites to be able to work for centuries. 


The use of carbon capture technologies should be the last step in a cascade of priorities to decarbonise industry. Circular economy and energy and material efficiency must be the top priority before considering tackling any residual emissions with CCS. These strategies can support an optimal use of resources, reduce the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere and spark new business models.   

Before going all-in on CCS, policies and industry should also prioritise switching industrial processes towards electrification and phasing out fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy. Replacing combustion processes with renewable electrification is a powerful way to reduce carbon emissions without recurring to costly CCS. Nowadays, renewable energy is displacing fossil fuels and related emissions with no need to capture them.  

With a combination of decarbonised production and circular economy measures, greenhouse gas emissions can drop by 25% and energy consumption can reduce by 20% by 2045, making it the most reasonable pathway to achieve our climate goals.


Time and public money are precious and scarce resources and should be used wisely to serve the public interest and fight against the climate crisis. Can the EU really justify gambling with EU taxpayers’ money on costly and risky decarbonisation experiments when proven alternative solutions exist? As CCS is gaining attention in the EU policy landscape, it becomes important to highlight all its trade-offs, from fossil fuel lock-in to the diversion of public funds from cost-effective proven solutions to mitigate carbon emissions.  

CCS should be treated as a last resource and renewable electricity, energy and material efficiency and circularity must be the true priority. The use of CCS must be a laser-focused part of the decarbonisation process – not the main public-funded star of the show.