Thursday 6 February 2020


Achieving net zero by decarbonising fossil fuels

Prof. Myles Allen, University of Oxford

There are only two ways of making the global fossil fuel industry compliant with net zero carbon dioxide emissions. We could shut it down, or we could require it to dispose of all the carbon dioxide generated by its activities and products safely, meaning no further net dumping into the atmosphere.

The first option, even if practicable, raises ethical challenges: if we wind down the fossil fuel industry over the next 40 years and then discover we need to go further and scrub carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere, who will pay for that scrubbing?

A safer and fairer approach would be to require the industry to dispose of a fraction of the carbon dioxide generated by its activities and products, progressively increasing to reach 100%, or net zero emissions, by a target date such as 2050.

A variety of options have been proposed, but to offset the burning of fossil carbon (an effectively permanent, irreversible activity), disposal must also be essentially permanent, for which the only scalable option at present is geological sequestration.

Join Myles to hear about where we are with carbon sequestering technology and what needs to happen for this to be implemented, at scale.

Myles Allen

Myles is Professor of Geosystem Science in the Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Physics, University of Oxford. His research focuses on how human and natural influences on climate contribute to observed climate change and extreme weather events.

He has served on several Assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most recently as one of the Coordinating Lead Authors of the 2018 Special Report on 1.5°C. In 2009, he proposed the concept of a cumulative global carbon budget determining peak warming and was awarded the Appleton Medal from the Institute of Physics in 2010.

A progressive sequestration mandate, imposed at the point of extraction, would, if successfully implemented, solve the problem of fossil-fuel-induced climate change. It would also substantially increase the cost of fossil fuels, so although in principle could work as a stand-alone policy, in practice it would need to complement other policies to encourage an orderly transition.