Climate change: Why politicians should be wary of oil industry promises on carbon-neutral fossil fuels – Scotsman comment

34 days to Cop26: Amid growing concern about climate change, the oil industry has largely dropped attempts to downplay the science.

Carbon-capture-and-storage could be used to stop greenhouse gas emissions but it might be too expensive compared to renewable energy (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

So much so that, in the UK, there are now plans to produce fossil fuels on a carbon-neutral basis as a contribution to efforts to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This rather ironic strategy has the obvious problem that the main use of oil and gas is to burn it, which is very much carbon positive. The proposed solution, at least for power stations, is to use carbon-capture-and-storage technology to ensure no greenhouse gases are emitted.

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So, problem solved? Unfortunately not, because the technology remains expensive, particularly when compared to the falling prices of electricity produced by wind and solar, so there are only a small number of commercial schemes in operation in the world.

The other problem is that oil industry credibility has been seriously damaged by its numerous past attempts to rubbish the scientific evidence about climate change in public, even when their own scientists were quietly in agreement with the general consensus.

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An internal Exxon memo from as long ago as 1979 said: “The most widely held theory is that... the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to fossil fuel combustion.” And in 1996, a peer-reviewed paper by Exxon scientists reported “the body of evidence... now points towards a discernable human influence on global climate”.

This track record leads some to suspect that the prospect of widespread carbon-capture-and-storage is simply a delaying tactic. It may have a role to play, but politicians need to be careful in case its promise turns out to be false.

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