Recap: 6th Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum Ministerial Meeting

The Center for Carbon Removal just returned from presenting at the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) Ministerial meetings in Riyadh. We went to the meetings to encourage the CSLF members to widen their focus to include carbon removal. In the process we got great feedback and learned a lot of interesting things about the state of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) field. The recap below delves into the key details and takeaways from the meetings.

What is the CSLF?

The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) is a consortium of energy ministers from 25 (mostly developed) nations, and a group of stakeholders that includes energy-focused companies and NGOs. The CSLF’s mission is to foster the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for the energy and industrial sector—that is, technologies that separate CO2 from the exhaust streams of power plants and other manufacturing facilities, and then store the resulting CO2 deep underground in impermeable rock formations. The CSLF’s technical and policy working groups meet semi-annually to share best practices and develop recommendations for energy ministers, who gather every two years to share updates. The US chairs the Forum, and has played a large role in the organization since its formation in 2003.

 

What was the CSLF meeting that just took place from Nov. 1-5 in Riyadh?

The Riyadh meetings were the 6th ministerial-level gathering of the CSLF, bringing in high-ranking energy and climate change officials from the CSLF member nations, as well as business and NGO experts in CCS that contributed to Policy, Technology, and Stakeholder working group meetings. The US Secretary of Energy co-chaired the event with the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources from Saudi Arabia. Major NGOs and companies that attended included:

Why was this CSLF Ministerial meeting important?

The CSLF Ministerial meetings help set the direction for research and policy priorities related to CCS around the globe. Energy ministers—as well as the major energy companies, government research units, and NGOs that participated in this meeting—have significant power to shape national and international action to develop CCS technologies. With mounting evidence that CCS will provide a critical tool to not just stop emissions, but to also clean up carbon that has accumulated in the atmosphere, it is increasingly urgent that the CCS community get the support it needs to develop swiftly and effectively.

How did the conversation at the meetings relate to carbon removal?

The CSLF meeting provided interesting insight into the zeitgeist among influential energy ministers, companies, and NGOs about the role that CCS—and fossil fuel use more generally—will play in a world increasingly committed to curtailing climate change.

To start, nearly all of the CSLF meeting participants were bullish on the outlook for fossil fuel consumption, expressing the view that fossil use would increase over the next several decades due to a combination of demand factors (e.g. population and economic growth) and supply factors (e.g. lack of cost-competitive renewable energy). While many outside the CSLF group do not see prolonged fossil energy use as an inevitability, that opposing viewpoint was not voiced at this CSLF meeting.

In addition, the meeting participants voiced a very narrow conception of “carbon sequestration” that was almost entirely confined to technologies that capture CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use coupled with underground geologic CO2 storage—and did not include other carbon removal approaches. This narrow interpretation of the term “carbon sequestration” is striking, as a much broader set of technologies and processes hold potential to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, including:

  • In the energy sector: CO2 capture from non-fossil fuel sources, including bioenergy and ambient air; and storage via utilization in building materials
  • And outside the energy sector: Biological CO2 capture via photosynthesis and storage in ecosystems (e.g. forests, grasslands, wetlands, oceans) and/or agricultural lands (e.g. soils, biomass); and chemical CO2 capture via enhanced weathering of rocks that natural react (albeit quite slowly) with CO2 in the air.

The bottom line is that, in this influential community, the link between CCS via fossil energy and geological storage and CCS via other carbon removal approaches is largely non-existent.

How does the "CCS = fossil energy" paradigm impede the development of CCS systems?

The participants in the CSLF meetings repeatedly stressed that the problems facing CCS systems are not technological in nature, as the major components of CCS systems have been commercialized over decades of related fossil fuel refining and enhanced oil recovery activities. Instead, the CCS field faces a political problem: there are scant markets and government programs to support CCS projects.

There was plenty of space at the CLSF Stakeholder table for more voices thinking about carbon sequestration beyond systems related to fossil energy with geologic capture.

There was plenty of space at the CLSF Stakeholder table for more voices thinking about carbon sequestration beyond systems related to fossil energy with geologic capture.

While there was considerable discussion of potential policy, regulatory, and communication tactics that could help build support for the CCS field,  there was no discussion of fundamentally re-framing the conception of CCS to one of “zero- and negative-emission energy (and non-energy) sector technologies.” Such a re-framing could expand CSLF stakeholders and advocates, bringing much needed support for CCS of all kinds. And while I'm proud to report that the CSLF stakeholders unanimously adopted the Center's recommendation to explore opportunities for expanding the definition of "CCS" to include non-fossil fuel sources, we still have a long way to go to make a broader, coordinated "carbon sequestration" discussion a reality.