Tool exposes ‘risky’ assumptions behind climate pledges

Companies relying on carbon capture and storage to meet emissions reduction commitments have been red-flagged by researchers.

Data released on Tuesday shows more than 60 per cent of the world’s top 145 coal, oil and gas producers are not aligned with the push to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

University of Queensland researcher Saphira Rekker said it did not make sense to work off a production-based target set in 2022 or 2023 and ignore the years of production before that.

Nor should companies be allowed to simply reset their starting point and have another go from 2025, she said.

“We’re never going to make it that way,” Dr Rekker told AAP.

Energy giants with a very high dependence on ongoing fossil fuel production tended to have a similarly high reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) to meet their targets under the Paris Agreement.

“It’s a risky pathway … you’re betting on that pathway and you’re claiming to be Paris-aligned,” she said.

Dr Rekker said the bet on CCS requires a guarantee or justification that it is going to be feasible and likely to succeed.

Proponents say the technology can pump greenhouse gas emissions deep underground for permanent storage, including into depleted oil and gas wells.

Critics say the contentious technology is costly, does not work at the rate promised and should not be an excuse for new developments.

The UQ-led research with Oxford and Princeton universities found resources giants BHP and Rio Tinto had a production trajectory on track with climate pledges, while Australia’s large electricity generators did not.

“But that doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way,” Dr Rekker said.

For example, Origin Energy is off course but could make up their deficit if they closed Australia’s largest coal plant Eraring on schedule in 2025.

The team’s Are You Paris Compliant website gives a sense of the risks executives might face if they trap themselves within a particular pathway.

The researchers said their new method expands on an initial approach, which measured the Paris compliance of utility and cement companies using a science-based test.

Matthew Ives from Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking said the straightforward “fossil fuel method” would make it more difficult for companies to get away with so-called greenwashing on emissions reduction.

“Some existing approaches have used metrics like carbon intensity that rely on difficult-to-source and often misleading data,” Dr Ives said.

“Other approaches have enabled companies to choose their own starting point for tracking progress, allowing them to erase unflattering historical emissions.”

The research has been published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

Dr Rekker said the goal of the research is to help society understand the climate targets that companies have set and the underlying assumptions.

“The thing is we didn’t know before. That’s the whole problem – we don’t know how far on or off track we are,” she said.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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