California’s plan relies too heavily on emerging technologies (Part 3)

This article was co-authored by Caroline Jones, US Climate Analyst, and Katie Schneer, High Meadows Fellow for Subnational Climate Policy.

Photo credit: pexels

In May, the California Air Resources Board released the Draft 2022 Climate Change Framework, a roadmap that will guide the state toward meeting its 2030 emissions goal and achieving net emissions. nil by 2045 at the latest. four-part series will unpack several key aspects of the plan and assess whether they raise California’s climate ambition to the levels needed to protect communities from the worst climate impacts.

While California already has most of the tools it needs to meet its climate goals, there are still difficult economic areas to address – like industry – that will require new climate solutions that are not yet widely available on the market. the market. This is where new technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) can help reduce these emissions. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is another solution needed to tackle legacy carbon pollution from the atmosphere, but all of these approaches now require more investment in innovation to reach a safe, affordable scale. and reliable.

Currently, CARB is count too much on these emerging solutions for critical emissions reductions and removals in California’s draft climate change framework, rather than maximizing the proven solutions we have now – like further reducing pollution from areas of the energy and transportation and tighten the cap on government emissions. As a result, this strategy leaves reductions in climate pollution that can and should be reached this decade until lucky. And as we explained in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, short-term ambition is key to minimizing the most devastating long-term climate damage, like wildfires and droughts.

An analogy with… football

To help understand how CARB should build a strategy for deploying proven solutions and strategies with new ones emerging, consider this football (yes, football!) analogy for the draft scoping plan:

Imagine you’re a football coach in the state championship game – it’s now or never to defeat climate change. You’re going to put your star players on the pitch – meaning your proven technologies and strategies like clean energy and electric cars, trucks and buses – because they’re going to max out the points on the board, that’s i.e. pollution reductions. A smart trainer doesn’t expect his freshmen – emerging technologies like CDR and hydrogen – to win right now because they still need more training and practice. But as they improve — as the cost of these technologies decreases with innovation and our understanding of their performance and potential risks improves — they could be important to the success of the industry. team all the way. However, we don’t yet know exactly what this role looks like. Roll the dice on new talents that have great potential if you work with them and train them properly, or rely on the first string to get the points you need at present?

The bottom line: you do what you can to maximize your star players, i.e. your proven technologies and strategies, first. California’s blueprint could get more pollution cuts from its existing star players, like pushing for a cleaner energy sector, more zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, and a cap stricter on emissions. Instead, it relies too heavily on emerging technologies such as hydrogen, CCS and CDR to score big points down the line, when we need those guaranteed points right now.

It’s important to note that new players like Hydrogen, CCS, and CDR shouldn’t be written off, but we don’t yet know how reliable – or scalable – they’ll be on the playing field. more practice (research, development and demonstration) before we can confidently rely on them to achieve the pollution reductions we need to guarantee.

Here’s how the framework plan frames these new technologies and what should change.


Hydrogen has potential as a decarbonization strategy in some hard-to-reduce sectors like heavy industry, global shipping and aviation. The draft framework plan recognizes this, but also envisages deploying hydrogen in light passenger transport, which should instead be electrified. Using green hydrogen in passenger vehicles would require much greater amounts of renewable energy – perhaps up to two to five times more renewable energy according to EDF’s internal analysis – than the direct electrification of light transport.

The impact of hydrogen on the climate is another key consideration. EDF’s soon-to-be-published research found that if hydrogen leakage is not fully accounted for, many of the climate benefits of even green hydrogen could be eroded. EDF’s findings underscore that carbon dioxide is not the only significant climate pollutant to be concerned about when it comes to hydrogen production, particularly when it is not produced with renewable energies. Hydrogen itself can be an indirect greenhouse gas that causes warming, and when hydrogen comes from natural gas, it poses a significant risk of methane emissions contributing to the global warming effects of the hydrogen from fossil fuels.

Hydrogen, as the smallest molecule in the world, is very difficult to contain and tends to escape into the atmosphere throughout the value chain. The risk of leakage increases as hydrogen has to travel from production to end use. Assessing and minimizing leakage risk is critical to the successful deployment of hydrogen infrastructure in California politics. In order to avoid leaks, the hydrogen infrastructure must be ready to contain the molecule from the design phase. Because the climate impacts of this type of hydrogen production are potentially significant, hydrogen of fossil origin should not be considered as a climate solution in this framework plan. The framework plan must clearly indicate that hydrogen should only be a priority for sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, and only where leaks can be assessed and avoided.

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

Carbon dioxide removal approaches leverage land, ocean, and/or technologies such as Direct Air Capture (DAC) remove legacy pollution from the atmosphere and offset emissions in hard-to-reach sectors. reduce. Even if everything was zero emissions today, we have already emitted so much pollution that the atmosphere will continue to warm, so we need to remove the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. However, CDR should not be a substitute for deep reductions at a source of pollution. CARB should focus on maximizing reductions and rely solely on CDR for emissions that absolutely cannot be reduced.

The draft scoping plan relies heavily on the deployment of CDR – potentially to an even greater extent than modeled in 2020 when CARB began exploring pathways to net zero emissions, and certainly more than had been envisioned. by the legislature in the last session of AB 1395. E3 modeling shows that California will reduce its direct emissions from pollution sources by 78% below the 1990 baseline by 2045, in s relying on the CDR to offset the remaining 22% of emissions. While the scale of climate pollution in our atmosphere is concerning, the scoping plan should absolutely not rely on CDR as an alternative to short-term emission reductions, especially from sources that have a significant impact on communities overburdened by pollution.

CARB should reconsider the amount of CDR assumed in the scoping plan and scale that approximates the 10% level assumed in AB 1395, which was based on CARB’s 2020 carbon neutrality report.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has been under development and deployed for years, but only on a small scale. This process captures carbon dioxide from industrial processes and fossil fuel power plants and stores it permanently underground. While CCS will likely be needed in hard-to-decarbonise sectors like cement, it should not be seen as a tool to help produce fossil fuels.

The framework plan assumes a significant deployment of CCS, including in the refining of fossil fuels. Assuming that carbon capture technology will be massively developed may or may not slow the production and consumption of fossil fuels, which would actually delay progress in the fight against climate change.

Back to the football analogy: CARB is how you write a championship-winning climate plan: you prioritize your proven star players who can score big now more promising new players who need more practice. Emerging technologies will have a role to play in achieving California’s climate goals, but they’re carrying the team in ways they may not be prepared for. Rookies in this analogy, Hydrogen, CCS and CDR have a place in the team – but we need to make sure they are ready to step onto the pitch, play as a team and score points.

In the latest episode of our “Scoop on the Scoping Plan” series, we’ll unpack what the draft plan outlines for the transportation sector, California’s biggest source of climate pollution. Read the first two parts of our series at near-term ambition and the role of California’s cap-and-trade programand building an affordable, clean and secure energy system.

Comments are closed.