CCS included in decarbonisation pathways for Australia and other major emitters

comprehensive report on how the world’s largest emitters, including Australia, can decarbonise their economies by 2050 while maintaining economic prosperity was presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the recent Climate Leaders Summit in New York. The Australian chapter of this report has been released as a standalone report Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050: How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world which outlines a deep decarbonisation pathway that enables Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

This Insight provides an overview of the Australian report. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been modelled in the decarbonisation pathways of nine major emitters, including Australia. Future Insights will explore in more detail how major emitters have incorporated CCS in their decarbonisation pathways and CCS’s potential role in reducing non-energy emissions from industry.

In a bid to find a way for the world to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 and avoid dangerous climate change, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network established the global Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project (DDPP) that involves modelling teams from 15 major emitters including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the USA. These countries account for 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The results show that all 15 countries found ways to achieve near zero carbon electricity by 2050 while sustaining economic growth and that their total emissions can halve while economic growth quadruples. The results also show that CCS could play a significant role in global decarbonisation, as discussed below.

The Australian report for this project was prepared by ClimateWorks Australia and the Australian National University. It draws on modelling from the CSIRO and Victoria University’s Centre for Policy Studies, using the same modelling tools as previous analyses by Treasury, the Garnaut Review and other studies.

The report finds that Australia could achieve net zero emissions by 2050 while maintaining economic prosperity, with real GDP growing at 2.4% per annum, a similar rate to the past 5 years. The report also showed that decarbonisation can be achieved without major structural changes to the economy or lifestyle. The biggest changes would be in the energy sector and carbon forestry.

As is the case for all other DDPP country pathways, Australia’s pathway relies on three ‘pillars’ of decarbonisation:

  1. Greatly improved energy efficiency across the economy
  2. A nearly carbon free power system
  3. Switching to low carbon energy sources in transport, buildings and industry, including electrification

For non-energy emissions, there is a fourth pillar of decarbonisation modelled in Australia:

4. Reduced non-energy emissions, and in particular increased carbon sequestration through CCS in industry and carbon forestry.

Of these four pillars, the largest reduction in emissions is delivered by taking nearly all of the carbon out of electricity generation and the Australian report modelled three scenarios for achieving this:

  • 100% Renewables (grid-supplied, with back-up thermal and battery storage in particular)
  • CCS (up to 20% generation from coal or gas with CCS, 9% from gas and the remainder from renewables)
  • Nuclear (up to 27% generation from nuclear, 11% from gas and the remainder from renewables).

Each of these scenarios can lead to a greater than 90 per cent reduction in the emissions intensity of electricity and are possible utilising technologies known today, although there is a need for significant investment to deploy and support them. For example, there would need to be storage facilities for CCS, intermittency management for renewables and radioactive waste management infrastructure for nuclear.

The near-zero carbon electricity can then be used widely across the economy, replacing petrol fuel use in cars, and gas and oil in buildings and some industrial processes. This electrification drives a two and a half fold increase in electricity demand by 2050.

Where possible, residual fossil fuel use in the economy is shifted to either bioenergy or lower emissions fuels such as gas, particularly for freight and industry.

CCS has an important role to play in the industrial sector to reduce non-energy emissions and there is potential to entirely offset any residual emissions throughout the economy by carbon forestry plantings.

As a result, Australia can achieve net zero emissions while the economy grows by almost 150 per cent by 2050 and retains mining and manufacturing in a world that is also decarbonising. This would require a rapid acceleration in activity in all sectors to reduce emissions and set the economy on an achievable trajectory for deep decarbonisation.

The Australian and global DDPP reports show that CCS contributes substantially to achieving near-zero carbon electricity generation in the pathways prepared by the Canadian, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Mexican, Russian, UK and US DDPP teams (see Figure 1 below and the DDPP country chapters here). As discussed above, CCS is also included in one of the near-zero electricity generation scenarios modelled by the Australian team.

Figure 1: The modelled contribution of CCS to the electricity generation mix in 2050 for the 15 DDPP countries DDPP

The prevalence of CCS in the 2050 electricity generation mixes modelled by the DDPP country teams shows its importance to the decarbonisation pathways of many major emitting countries. This highlights the urgency of increased investment to demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale CCS deployment in many locations.

By Anna Skarbek, Executive Director, ClimateWorks Australia

Orginally Published by the Global CCS Institute on 28 Nov 2014

For further information on existing CCS projects see the Global CCS Institute site