Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and the Paris climate agreement

The Paris climate agreement in 2015 can be viewed as a success, however it is premised on achieving net negative emissions of carbon dioxide. This research critically investigates one of the most promising  but still largely unproven and highly controversial, methods for net negative emissions – bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

The Paris climate agreement in 2015 was widely hailed as an historic deal and included radically raised ambitions for the curbing of anthropogenic temperature increase. A fact that was not explicitly acknowledged in the agreement but that has since been widely criticized, is that the realization of the ambitious targets established in the deal is premised on the large-scale implementation world-wide of bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), a promising but as yet unproven technology. The material for BECCS comes primarily from forest biomass, energy crops and agricultural and forest residues, and the efforts demanded by BECCS would therefore seem to run counter to several of the long-term commitments already made towards business and environmental goals.

The great appeal of BECCS, since it enables net negative emissions of carbon dioxide (NETs), is that it can make legitimate the establishment of overshoot targets, thus not jeopardizing the viability of key industries with large emissions. However, BECCS is associated with a number of uncertainties of a technological, environmental, social, political and economical character and is likely to trigger intense and hard-to-resolve conflicts over land-use. The material for BECCS comes primarily from forest biomass, energy crops and agricultural and forest residues, and the efforts demanded by BECCS would therefore seem to run counter to several of the long-term commitments, already made towards business and environmental goals.

The aim of the research is to explore and discuss the feasibility of a massive, global-scale implementation of BECCS, and to assess how BECCS can be implemented on a large scale in low-income countries without jeopardizing resilience, industries crucial for the self-sustenance of the local populations and sustainability projects such as REDD+, and that instead contributes to capacity building and poverty reduction.

The investigation has its focus on two countries – Sweden and Tanzania - that both rely heavily on the forest as a bio-economical resource, but that differ radically in their industrial, governmental and economical structures and resources. The aim is to critically analyze challenges for a potential large-scale implementation BECCS these countries, but the project also addresses how the insights from the cases can inform the debate on a massive global scale implementation of BECCS.

The present research is a continuation of my previous research on climate geoengineering (A study of sustainable development: the case of geoengineering. Funded by Formas) as BECCS has singled out as one of the most promising of the climate engineering methods, or at least the one receiving most attention in climate policy contexts. The research is performed within two projects:

  • Negative carbon dioxide emissions as a feasible transition pathway to sustainability?
  • The uncertainties, barriers, challenges and possibilities of large-scale BECCS implementation in Sweden.

    Funded by The Swedish Research Council Formas.

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