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Dicaprio and Biden set out to lead humanity away from the “cliff edge”

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Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, and about 150 other actors, politicians, and businessmen signed an open letter to Joe Biden. They said that civilization today is “on the edge of a cliff” and urged the new U.S. president to do everything possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Celebrity activists believe that simply returning the United States to the Paris climate agreement is not enough. The solution to all the accumulated environmental problems requires much greater efforts, in particular the intensification of the global energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources (RESs).

In the West, there is indeed a strong belief that reducing the concentration of CO2 and other harmful substances in the atmosphere is only possible in the case of an accelerated energy transition, i.e., replacing hydrocarbons with solar panels and wind turbines. But is this the case? After all, green technologies have a whole bouquet of serious shortcomings, from which all the years of their improvement have not been able to get rid.

One of the most serious is the lack of affordable solutions for storing and transporting energy on an industrial scale. That is, it is theoretically possible to build a huge battery, of course, and such a project was already implemented three years ago in Australia by Elon Musk. However, it was not the beginning of a new era - the cost and efficiency of such a system do not yet allow it to even partially compete with natural gas.

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“The successes achieved by renewable energy sources in recent decades, mainly wind and solar power, have created a misconception that this is the only possible way to decarbonize the world economy. The ease of commercialization in the face of enormous financial support from the authorities of some states attracts more and more new participants. A similar situation was observed during the period of super-high oil prices. At that time specialized companies rarely thought about the efficiency of certain projects and very rarely considered alternative investment options,” says Associate Professor of Economics, Organization and Management Department of St. Petersburg Mining University Pavel Tsvetkov.

Climate Policy Imbalance in the Energy Sector: Time to Focus on the Value of CO2 Utilization

ne of his scientific studies is dedicated to the imbalance created in the energy sector by the attempts of the western countries to artificially change the energy structure, although the preconditions for this are not there yet. The global population is growing rapidly, the quality of life in many parts of the world is improving, and this is leading to an increase in global energy consumption. This situation contributes to the continuing demand for hydrocarbons, despite the construction of more and more wind farms and solar power plants. And it does not allow mankind to bridge the gap between reality and the goals of climate agreements.

This trend is particularly evident in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, whose governments cannot afford to subsidize the implementation of RESs on the same scale as in the West. Their national economies simply cannot bear this burden. That is, for China or India the reduction of anthropogenic impact on the environment is more associated with the replacement of relatively cheap coal-fired generation, which accounts for more than 50% of their total energy consumption, with natural gas. And not by switching to renewable energy sources.

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“It is becoming increasingly clear that in the foreseeable future hydrocarbon resources, the volume of which is increasing annually, will remain a significant part of the global fuel and energy balance. This means that humanity needs to reconsider its policy toward fossil fuels. And move from destructive measures, such as the ban on investment in oil and gas extraction, to constructive measures aimed at the implementation of environmental projects. I am sure that we will be able to minimize the pollution of nature, but at the same time maintain sustainable development, through a combination of different technologies. So, capturing CO2, which is formed during the combustion of fuel at power plants can affect the reduction of carbon intensity no less than the sun and wind," says Pavel Tsvetkov.

To date, there is no single cost-effective technology that would be able to provide the necessary reduction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. However, Norway, Japan, the USA, Australia, and some other countries have experience in capturing it and pumping it into various geological formations (for example, salt caverns). This, although unprofitable, is an extremely effective way to reduce emissions, known as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage).

CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage) is the most interesting way for businesses, especially if the state compensates some of the costs. The essence is that CO2 is injected, for example, into an oil well, and this allows not only to reduce emissions but also to increase the extraction rate of black gold. Another group of technologies (CCU) is aimed at using carbon dioxide as a feedstock for industry. For example, to produce petrochemicals such as methanol, polyethylene, rubber, and many others.

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“All of these solutions are not perfect and have certain drawbacks, including being high capital- and science-intensive. But the value of some of them is that they already exist at the level of real projects and make it possible to significantly reduce the carbon footprint resulting from the operation of industrial facilities. We cannot ignore them, because otherwise, in 30 years, we may find ourselves in a situation where the demand for hydrocarbons will remain high, and their use will continue to cause significant damage to nature. This is a fairly realistic prospect. Therefore, national governments must subsidize not only the construction of wind turbines and solar panels but also the introduction of clean technologies that reduce emissions at traditional power facilities,” says Pavel Tsvetkov.

The value of developing sequestration technologies (CC(U)(S)) is also confirmed by the actions of Elon Musk, who announced in January his intention to pay $100 million for the development of the best innovation in the field of CO2 capture. The U.S. President Joe Biden has also expressed his interest in such projects, especially in reducing their capital intensity, which directly affects the investment attractiveness of the entire subsequent technological chain (transportation, recycling, storage). He is going to take several steps to make carbon capture more affordable, accessible, and scalable. Among them are increased federal investment and tax incentives.

So far more than 50% of the world’s “climate” investments are directed to the wind and solar energy. If the West does not reconsider its attitude to RESs as the main and almost the only tool to save nature, humanity is unlikely to achieve the declared environmental goals by the middle of the 21st century.