The Other CCS

feastaLaurence Matthews of Feasta The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability

The initials ‘CCS’ usually stand for Carbon Capture and Storage, which was discussed in a post here recently. However, I was with the team in Paris during COP21 promoting the Cap Global Carbon proposal (as described in John Jopling’s blog post here last year); the mechanism embodied in Cap Global Carbon is Cap & Share, and it occurred to us that the name ‘Carbon Cap & Share’ has the same initials, CCS. We wondered, are these two types of CCS complementary or antagonistic? Are they friends or enemies?

Let’s take a look.

The Paris Agreement was hugely symbolic. But if it remains only symbolic, then we’re in deep trouble. We need to implement it quickly, and then some. But it’s clear that cutting carbon emissions won’t happen fast enough. CCS (and for that matter geo-engineering) offer to help.

But there’s a defeatist sleight of hand in that previous paragraph. We may start by agreeing that we need to move fast, but then somehow we slide into accepting that we are unable to just decide to do this. So instead we turn to trying to fix things with technology. But are we really incapable of acting decisively? Are we really limited to moving at a slow, ‘politically feasible’ pace – or is this just a framing of the situation by vested interests?

On first encountering CCS, you might ask the following: prevention being better than cure, why dig up carbon only to re-bury it? If you’re confronted with a flooding bathroom, surely one of the first actions is to turn off the taps? Go for the root cause of the problem and shut it off. Otherwise, we’re into an ‘eating a spider to catch a fly’ series of escalating problems and side effects.

Although the recent post here on CCS stated that ‘a revolution in the global economy is needed’, CCS doesn’t offer one. With CCS, we’re still firmly in the ‘frame’ that takes digging up the fossil fuels for granted. Questioning the digging up falls outside the frame.

Cap & Share, on the other hand, does offer a revolution. Not the kind that overthrows capitalism perhaps, but one that does put capitalism at the service of humankind. We simply insist on the market operating within a set of rules we decide. It’s like our decision to abolish slavery: we said to the market, ‘these are the rules, slavery is out; now go and do your thing within those rules’.

With Cap & Share our ground rule is that the worldwide extraction of fossil fuels must be capped (limited to a certain amount, in accordance with the latest science, that reduces briskly each year towards zero). That’s the ‘Cap’, and we achieve it through an annual global auction of fossil fuel extraction permits. Then we share out the auction income to all adults (that’s the ‘Share’). This is essentially a global Cap & Dividend system (similar to the ‘Fee & Dividend’ idea, advocated by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and others). Cap & Share replaces the need for emissions trading, national emissions limits, and indeed any scrutiny of emissions at all. Everything’s taken care of ‘upstream’, by turning off the taps.

So Cap & Share takes the root cause of most emissions – namely the extraction of fossil fuels – and tackles it head on; CCS simply tries to ‘cope with it’. CCS, like ge-oengineering, is a useful avenue to pursue (and surely, we’re going to need everything we’ve got), but all too often CCS will be used to give cover to those who want to maintain the ‘extraction is sacrosanct’ frame in place.

Where does all this leave us?

With the feeling, perhaps, that Cap & Share and CCS seem to be at odds. But no. Despite this, I would argue that we should see them as partners.

On the one hand, Cap & Share which tackles fossil fuel emissions, can be complemented by CCS, which can tackle the non-fossil CO2 emissions (steel and cement production, say). And conversely, Cap & Share delivers (among other things) a carbon price, which is needed for CCS.

So, do we need CCS? Probably; and CCS needs a carbon price. But are CCS and a carbon price sufficient? No. We need both partners. We need to get serious; to make the carbon price high enough to enforce an effective cap; we need a simple system to do this – and one that also addresses inequality would be good. In other words, we also need Carbon Cap & Share – the other CCS.

Useful links

IEA work on carbon capture and storage

Guest author

3 comments to “The Other CCS”

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  1. Patricia Almeida Ashley - 30/04/2016 Reply

    I appreciate the way you write, I could understand clearly the within and outside the wheel perspective (single loop and double loop learning) of CCS and Carbon Cap & Share.

    Hopefully a third loop learning shall deconstruct the wheel by means of self-knowledge, solidarity, empathy and affection. Then, inequality and inequity become the structural axe of the wheel. Also, capitalism is based in values of individualism, fragmentation, isolation, competition, nothing else can grow except when it turns into a new ‘market’ for investment, trade, price and profits.

    Thus, without us looking and dealing with consumption as a social value, promoted by competition in structural inequality and inequity we do not go much further. The political will is sponsored by the economic will and keeps the wheel moving in policies, budgets, taxes and rules for everything to live in society, either locally, nationally or globally.

    Frugality supported by collectivism, communitarianism, fraternity and unity are the arms of Gaia.

    Thank you for your contribution for our understanding of gaps in the field of CCS1 and CCS2.

    Kind Regards

    Patricia Almeida Ashley

    • Laurence Matthews - 07/05/2016 Reply

      Dear Patricia,

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      I very much agree with the spirit of your post here. When promoting an idea such as Cap & Share, it is sometimes difficult to find the right path between idealism and pragmatism.

      I believe that we have a global problem here, and so if we manage to address this problem it will be as a single, global community. Perhaps the global nature of the problem can even help to promote this solidarity: it has brought nations together at meetings such as the COP21 talks in Paris. At such events, issues such as inequality and injustice are rising up the agenda too. Of course, we have a lot further to go yet.

      Meanwhile, however, many people are still rooted in capitalism, and as you say, capitalism tends to pull in the opposite direction of selfishness, individualism and short-termism.

      Cap & Share offers something for both camps of people. In terms of idealism, it explicitly states that we should tackle the problem together with a single, global mechanism on behalf of all humankind; and the ‘equal shares’ part highlights equity as a goal and starts to address it.

      Meanwhile, for those who cling to capitalism, Cap & Share offers a way to address the climate crisis (by imposing the carbon cap) which leaves ‘the rest of capitalism’ untouched. This means that supporters of C&S are not calling for ‘the overthrow of capitalism’ – which many would see as utopian in the short term.

      To meet the climate crisis we will need everything we’ve got. I believe this means both talking to people in practical terms about solutions which work in the current dominant economic system, and in moral terms about the need to adjust and constrain that system so that humanity can thrive.

      Best wishes,

      Laurence Matthews

      • Patricia Almeida Ashley - 07/05/2016 Reply

        Thank you for this dialogue, it opens and clarifies my thoughts.

        My compliments to OECD Insights Blog, which offers us, as it says, insights and it shows discussions from inside OECD and collaborators.

        Greetings from Brazil

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