When it comes to technology for averting climate change, renewable energy often gets the limelight. But a relatively neglected technology—capturing carbon dioxide from power plants—could have a far bigger impact on the economics of dealing with climate change, according to a U.N. report released earlier this week.
The report is the third in a series of major reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the first of which came out last fall. This one considers how to limit greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the most serious effects of climate change. The report analyzes the cost of taking steps to stabilize greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere—switching from coal to solar power, for example, will increase electricity prices and create a drag on the economy. It found that in a best-case scenario, limiting greenhouse gas concentrations to levels low enough to keep global warming to an increase of less than two degrees Celsius would cut global economic consumption by 2.9 to 11.4 percent by 2100. That could amount to between $9 trillion and $80 trillion.
The report found that if solar and wind power fall short of targets, it would increase the cost of limiting global warming, but only by a modest amount—about 6 percent.
But costs could more than double if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology isn’t deployed. That’s because solar power could be replaced with alternatives such as nuclear power, while CCS is harder to replace. It’s the only technology that can reduce the emissions of existing power plants, some of which will stay in operation for decades. It also might be the best way to limit emissions from some industrial processes, such as making steel.
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