Blog | Jan. 27, 2021

An open letter to Elon Musk on his promises to donate millions for carbon capture tech

Dear Mr. Musk,

On January 11, 2021, Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland released ground-breaking research carried out by the climate change research group the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, to assess the role of fossil fuel-based carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the energy system, and its ability to help achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This landmark report found that fossil fuel-based CCS cannot be relied upon to deliver global 2030 emissions reductions, while the majority of CCS that exists is being used to extract more fossil fuels.

This is why we found your January 21 tweet promising to donate “$100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology” incredibly alarming – particularly following reports of your plans to drill for climate-polluting fossil gas in Texas.

We urge you to consider the findings of this research, including the current status of fossil fuel-based CCS in the energy system and its implications for delivering Paris Agreement climate targets, and to reconsider your plans to double down on false climate solutions.

Our findings include:

  • The scale of deployment of CCS to date is significantly less than proponents have predicted, with only 26 CCS plants currently in operation globally.
  • Global operational CCS capacity is currently 39MtCO2 per year, this is about 0.1% of annual global emissions from fossil fuels.
  • 81% of carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil via the process of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). This means CCS is being predominantly used for carbon-emitting oil extraction that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
  • Fossil fuel-based CCS is not capable of operating with zero emissions. Many projections assume a capture rate for CCS of 95%, however, capture rates at that level are unproven in practice.
  • Fossil fuel-based CCS will continue to entail residual, process and supply chain greenhouse gas emissions. There must be consideration of whether fossil fuel hydrogen with CCS is sufficiently low-carbon relative to remaining carbon budgets.
  • Even if the technology is to become economically and technically viable at scale, optimistic forecasts do not anticipate significant fossil fuel-based CCS capacity until at least the 2030s.
  • A focus on fossil fuel-based CCS will not help achieve 2030 CO2 emission reduction targets being adopted by Governments, which have to be met if we are to prevent a climate catastrophe. The research emphasizes the real danger of reliance on CCS in energy for delivering these vital emission reductions, given they cannot be expected to any degree until at least 2030.

On the basis of this research, Global Witness believes the promotion of fossil fuel-based CCS in energy is a distraction from the rapid growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency required, and directly conflicts with efforts to implement a rapid phase out of fossil fuels. We urge instead reliance on technologies that can deliver the emissions reductions required by 2030 if we are to deliver on the Paris Agreement goals, which you will know the United States has now re-joined.

On January 7, 2021, you stated on Twitter how “critical feedback is always super appreciated, as well as ways to donate money that really make a difference (way harder than it seems).” As such, we urge you to assess the full findings of this research and its recommendations in the report, “A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel-Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System”.

Ultimately, Mr. Musk, if you are interested in advancing real climate solutions, we ask that you begin by looking internally into your corporate practices of alleged exploitation and extraction, rather than invest $100 million in perpetuating false climate solutions.

Signed,

Global Witness  

Climate action Gas