8.4 Takeaways


REF and CP2030 are both very far from net-zero in 2050 and 2060, underscoring how the policies in place or announced are far from enough to steer society toward carbon neutrality. This demonstrates the urgent need for additional policies with clear and quantifiable indicators and objectives to correct the course, as discussed in the conclusion of this report. Part of this reflection must focus on the implications of net-zero emissions.

First, given the difficulties in foreseeing the necessary technological innovations required to reduce non-energy emissions from agriculture and industrial processes, achieving net-zero implies reducing energy-related emissions as much as possible. To be more precise: energy-related emissions must present net negative emissions, achieved through all drastic emission reductions, carbon capture applications, and the use of negative emission technologies. This is a very tall order, but one which at least directs attention toward transformations that can be planned, some with technologies that already exist on a commercial scale or are reasonably well developed. There is no option to undershoot targets in this area because doing so will only add to the already sizeable emissions remaining from non-energy activities.

The above leads to the second point: relying on carbon capture is a central part of the scenarios to net-zero but results from the optimization modelling should not obscure the significant uncertainties that remain about the true potential for capture to be efficient from a technical, economic and energy requirement perspective. Experience so far with carbon capture in industrial applications shows a much lower share of emissions captured than theoretically feasible, as well as significant emissions resulting from energy use to operate the capture technologies. Experience with BECCS is even more limited, while no DAC technology is currently operated on a large scale, making it impossible to confirm costs for these processes. As a result, the quantity of emissions captured in the net-zero scenario results discussed above is likely to be an underestimation of what would be required to fully compensate remaining emissions.

Even disregarding these uncertainties about CCS, the amount of captured emissions (Figure 8.6) raises the issue of the implications of storing such large quantities every year, even after net-zero has been reached. While there is theoretically substantial storage capacity across the country, experience in storing quantities of this magnitude is lacking and some risk assessments suggest that large-scale storage should be considered with care. Opportunities for CO2 reutilization that do not result in the eventual release of CO2 are also very limited. 

As a result, the need to capture and achieve storage to reach net-zero and the considerable uncertainties that remain about these processes pose a crucial conundrum: results from net-zero scenarios must be treated as optimistic at best with regard to the role of CCS, suggesting that the emission cuts required in all sectors (including in non-energy activities) are likely to be greater than discussed in Chapters 6 to 8 of this Outlook. And since life does not end at net-zero, the implications of these transformations and the storage needed as part of this management of remaining emissions extend well beyond 2050 and 2060.