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Carbon Capture and Storage as a New Tool for Diplomacy


Sasha Scott


Carbon Capture and Storage Explained

The promising technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is exploding in popularity as nations across the world seek out ways to reduce emissions and end global climate change. Currently, there are 35 commercial facilities actively using this technology with around 300 CCS-related projects in development . The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 200 of these projects will be operational by 2030.


The technology for CCS is fairly intuitive. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured directly from the air at a fixed source—typically an energy plant. Then, using various methods, the CO2 is transported to a separate plant where it is stored. From there, companies encounter several options on how to use this CO2: they may repurpose the CO2 to create materials for the fertilizer and construction industries, increase the longevity of existing wells through enhanced oil recovery (EOR), or permanently store the CO2 underground to eliminate contributions to climate change.


Due to the potential of this technology to reduce emissions of energy plants substantially, many politicians see it as a vital tool for tackling climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently stated its support for using CCS as a tool to ensure a cap on rising global temperatures. Various entities, including the United States (U.S.) and the Europe Union (EU), have taken a step further and begun encouraging the implementation of this technology through generous subsidies.


CCS, through its recent increase in popularity, is no longer limited to domestic politics. International projects are beginning to be announced as CCS technology serves as a case study to examine the broader implications that the collective action problem of climate change will have in the world of international affairs.


Denmark and Belgium

Denmark and Belgium announced this March plans for a new joint CCS project dubbed Project Greensand. In collaboration with chemical company INEOS, Project Greensand will be the first cross-border CCS project in the world. CO2 is set to be captured at an INEOS plant in Belgium to then be liquefied and stored in Denmark. Denmark will then permanently store the carbon dioxide 1.1 miles beneath the floor of the North Sea. The ambitious project is estimated to sequester 8 million tons of CO2 per year.


In this instance, Denmark and Belgium already foster a remarkably strong relationship. Both countries are members of the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Paris Agreement. This relationship is further demonstrated in their collaboration in the North Sea Energy Cooperation in which Denmark and Belgium have implemented projects to develop offshore wind energy in the North Sea. The two countries also foster a strong economic relationship. In 2020, Belgium exported $2.73 billion in goods to Denmark and Denmark exported $1.84 billion to Belgium. They now progress this relationship as they move towards their shared goal of addressing climate change through CCS technology. Although these states are already harmonious in many aspects, the pursuance of Project Greensand allows Denmark and Belgium to further build an interdependent relationship within the energy sector.


Italy and United Arab Emirates

Another development this month is an announcement from Italy’s Eni and the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) regarding a memorandum to pursue green energy solutions together, including CCS. ADNOC, despite being controlled by the UAE (who is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) third-largest oil producer), has pledged a 25% reduction to their carbon emissions by 2030. The UAE on a larger scale has also committed to being net zero by 2050 and is currently set to host the next United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP28) in November 2023. Eni maintains similar goals to ADNOC, as they have announced their carbon emissions will be down 35% by 2030, 80% by 2040, and aim to be net zero by 2050. The project announced involves the construction of a CCS plant in the Bab field of Abu Dhabi for purposes of EOR.


Despite both countries' status as members of the Paris Agreement, the dynamic of this project starkly contrasts that of Belgium and Denmark. Since 2021, Italy and the UAE have maintained a tense relationship. Italy banned the sale of thousands of missiles to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as they had suspicions they may be used in the controversial conflict in Yemen. In response, the UAE requested that Italy abandon a military base in the Gulf. However, the development of a potential CCS project encouraged a meeting between UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. After the discussions, Meloni told the press, "Discussions...went very, very well and we're going back to a strategic partnership. Italy historically had very strong relations with the UAE which in recent years experienced serious difficulties."


Italy and the UAE, despite tense challenges as of late, have found a common ground amongst their differing policies based on ending global climate change. This has reopened a previously closed dialogue. After the meeting, Prime Minister Meloni went on to comment that she hopes the two countries can work to further their relationship into other policy areas such as defense. Through the recognition that climate change cannot be solved through individual actors, states are motivated to expand their efforts to collaborate with other countries.


The Potential of CCS in International Relations

Globally, CCS technology is being recognized as a critical tool in addressing climate change, and, with the number of proposed projects increasing every year, it is likely to become a norm for countries invested in meeting climate-conscious goals. For example, the U.S.introduced an increased federal tax credit for CCS projects. In response to this promotional policy, in 2021, the U.S. approved a new high of 51 plans for new CCS projects across the country. Saudi Arabia, the current head of OPEC, recently announced plans to build the largest CCS plant in the world. Projected to be up and running in 2027, the plant will store an impressive 9 million tons of CO2 per year. This plant is simply part of Saudi Arabia’s goal to capture 44 million tons of carbon dioxide through the use of CCS technology by 2035.


The progression of CCS technology onto the international scale is merely one of many developing technologies states are using to address climate change. From renewable sources of green energy to the promotion and development of electric vehicles, states are progressing in their attempt to reduce the effects of global warming. However, due to varying conditions, such as the geography and wealth of individual nations, collaboration is needed in achieving this goal. Executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, stated, “Through international collaboration, we can make the transition quicker, cheaper, and easier for everyone – on the back of faster innovation, greater economies of scale, bigger incentives to invest, level playing fields and benefits that are shared across all parts of society.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed similar sentiments at the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), saying that “One thing is certain: those that give up are sure to lose. So, let’s fight together– and let’s win. For the 8 billion members of our human family – and for generations to come.”


International collaboration in the energy sector has strong potential to generate interdependence between both estranged and friendly nations through strengthening their alliances and building trust. The scale of climate change often feels insurmountable. However, this collective action problem may also offer potential as a gateway for nations to revisit relationships and strengthen their position in the world.


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