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Is CCS Really A Clear Cut Solution For Climate Change?

Group 12

Over the last half century, the drive to reduce carbon emissions has taken center stage, affecting politics, the world economy and the direction of technological development. A multitude of competing technologies are available to wean the global economy off its addiction to carbon based fuels, including CCS. It looks to capture and store carbon dioxide produced globally, affecting consumers, carbon emitters, governments and the balance of our ecosystem. This post looks to evaluate the implications of the proliferation of CCS using ethical frameworks to determine if the technology is truly a positive force in the effort to reduce carbon emissions.

CCS – Clear Cut Solution

Drawing on the framework of duty-based ethics, a subsection of the wider Kantian philosophy, the human race has a moral obligation to preserve our planet. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have emitted CO2 into the atmosphere to the detriment of our planet, due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. We therefore have a responsibility to reduce CO2 levels and their associated environmental harm. CCS offers a viable solution to make amends for the polluting of the environment preventing the adverse effects of global warming. CCS technology could satisfy the duty of energy producers and governments to ensure the well-being of consumers and the greater population.

CO2 Pipeline

From a utilitarian standpoint, we must follow through on decisions which will benefit the majority and not the minority. Many communities around the world are presently feeling the devastating effects of global warming – rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions to name a few. Continuing current activities without CCS will see a greater risk of exposure to these negative effects, which are set to increase in severity. Cheap and abundant energy sources have underpinned economic growth in developed economies across the world over the last century. CCS implementation will allow for millions to be lifted out of poverty in the same way, as they can rely on the carbon intensive options which currently offer the most readily available sources of energy. Although the use of renewable electricity is rising, it would increase short term energy costs and jeopardize a stable energy network which could stunt the economic growth that benefits those in poverty, denying them access to reliable power that we take for granted.

CCS – Carbon Capture Shutdown

A utilitarian framework can also be used to argue against the implementation of the technology. A recent study states that, in the UK household bills are “families’ biggest worry”, higher than family issues, pressures at work or relationship problems. With over a fifth of the UK population currently in poverty (unable to heat their home, pay rent or buy essentials for their home) lower energy prices rather than environmental issues are a reality that could help more people. The increase in cost due to the separation, transportation and storage of the CO2 is estimated to increase the cost of energy for the consumers by 21-91% meaning the implementation of CCS may not benefit the majority.

The Kantian system of duty ethic focuses on the role of actions and their agreement with moral rules. The conflict with CCS pivots around the universality principle which is described to allow actions based on the premise that an action carried out must be regarded as an action that could become universal law. The basis of CCS is flawed when comparing it with other legislation that has been used to reduce emissions or pollutants in the atmosphere. For example, the prohibition of CFCs (Montreal Protocol) in aerosols or the stringent vehicle emissions standards introduced by the EPA in America triggered technological innovations in the catalytic converter and more environmentally friendly refrigerants, both aiming to eliminate the pollutant. If the principle of safe capture and storage of pollutants was universally implemented it would lead to solutions failing to tackle the root cause of the problem, making it less likely to lead to an effective solution, like those seen in the automobile and chemical industries. In this example we advocate for the focus of resources on zero carbon technologies such as solar or wind energy. In the case of heavy industry, the promotion of energy efficiencies targeting a reduction in energy use, which at the current state of CCS technology would prove far more effective in driving down emissions.

Care ethics focuses on the importance of relationships when developing an ethical standpoint; in this case, the relationship, responsibility and care we have towards future generations. Whilst CCS allows the sustainable burning of fossil fuels, these are resources that are unlikely to be readily available by the end of the century. Money invested in CCS slows the development of alternative energy, meaning the technology may not be ready when the energy transition occurs. In addition, deployment of large scale CCS creates potentially hazardous storage facilities, passing a burden onto future generations. The relationship can only be considered secure if the technology would never lead to future environmental disasters caused by the release of CO2, which is a difficult to assume with the current technological readiness. This could burden society with a future sequestration challenge that no stakeholder is willing to shoulder at present.


An underlying theme running through this discussion is the use of the technology as a vehicle for ‘greenwashing’ the use of fuels like coal. Industries that rely on this are acting with a short sighted viewpoint as the hydrocarbon based model could fall to the wayside in a low carbon energy future.


As well as demonstrating the conflict surrounding CCS, this post shows the weaknesses of the various ethical frameworks. The obscurity of the concept of benefit, or happiness, in the utilitarian framework is quantified by the short term benefit (price) against the long term benefit (reducing pollution) conflict in the article. This is also encountered within the Kantian framework bringing about the question of what is moral. Moral principles of the protection of our planet and our approach to pollutants in general are put against each other forcing us to choose which argument is more powerful.

64 thoughts on “Is CCS Really A Clear Cut Solution For Climate Change?

  1. – Interesting read as it presents strong arguments for both cases .
    – Questions the ethical theories well in the conclusion and allows the reader to make their own decision on whether CCS is good or bad.
    – Could have provided a statistical comparison of carbon emissions now and in previous years.

  2. Well argued article giving careful thought to both sides. The choice of vocabulary is powerful, emphasising the author’s point and highlighting the serious impact of the different types of energy sources. Very good references to different research and thought groups.

    Perhaps could expand upon the point of how CCS ‘makes amends for the polluting of the environment’ to make it clearer for a reader not familiar with the technology.

    An interesting point may be to explore the environmental cost of externalities and how these costs can be reflected in the pricing mechanism of energy sources.

  3. Can you define CCS please? I think it means Carbon Capture Storage, but you need to define it right at the start of your article. Acronyms are useful, but only if they don’t introduce ambiguity.

    Overall, your article is good, as it brings in the various ethical theories for both sides of the argument. Your conclusion hints that the same ethical frameworks can be used to promote both sides of the argument.

    Virtue Ethics suggests that CCS is worth pursuing since the technology derives from the desire to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and this something we probably all think is a virtue. Similarly, Duty Ethics suggests that we all hope we have the same attitude to preventing the greenhouse effect.
    The issue, of course, is whether CCS is effective and perhaps the framework to use here is Utilitarianism.Will CCS bring the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people?

    Incidentally, I wasn’t able to open https://www.bcg.com/documents/file15263.pdf

    1. Thanks you for the feedback,

      The document by BCG you have attached provides a lot more fuel for the debate, it also may give an insight into the way CCS is being viewed at management level at some of the big players in the industry, given BCGs standing as a leading management consultancy. This is something that was not brought into our debate, but could indicate if the technology will proliferate in industry without a significant shift in attitudes.

  4. Very interesting ethical angle on the issue of climate change, I agree with your conclusion that it is difficult to classify and analyse this issue using common ethical frameworks, and how difficult it is to supply high quality of life/low poverty, but invest in the essential technology required to meet emissions targets.
    Is this issue unique to countries such as the UK that have privatised energy companies? Would a state owned or backed supplier be able to deliver new infrastructure while maintaining affordable energy prices?
    Although I agree with the implementation of CCS, your argument regarding the care ethics of the dilution of energy investment towards CCS does ring true. However using the same framework; would you not agree that not implementing any CO2 reduction technologies and waiting 10-15 years for full scale renewable energy deployment could cause irreversible environmental effects that future generations would have to manage?

    1. That is a very interesting point raised about the ownership of large energy companies. Within Europe there a multiple ownership structures, some energy companies such as EDF Energy are owned by the state while other maintain private ownership or a hybrid model. State backed firms are more likely to act in governments interests which would most likely involve an element of CCS. Whether the state should be subsiding energy is dependant on location and evidence shows that this is taking place for multiple renewable technologies such as wind and solar.
      Unfortunately this ties the issue up in politics when a more efficient driver can often be the free market

  5. A very good article and a very interesting ethical issue.
    It is sad to realise investment in CCS and renewable development is competing, when both are needed to much to aid a smooth and quick transition to a more sustainable form on energy production.
    Without such competition, it is easy to consider CCS as purely positive, buy into the ‘greenwashing’ and forget about the underlying issues and that this ‘green’ CCS technology is merely prolonging the age of fossil fuel and preventing the renewable energy future that is needed.
    I think in terms of duty ethics based on the moral principle to protect our planet, changing the perceptions of these technologies and investing more in renewable energy development is a clear solution to this complex issue.
    Yes this comes at a financial cost which could impact the consumer but the current technologies have an environmental cost that cannot be ignored.

  6. An interesting and comprehensive article about something which is a major issue of our time, especially within the engineering community. It is important to see articles which critique CCS rather than display it as the “silver bullet” we so often see it described as! The application of ethical frameworks was good and the considersation of impacts on a “human” level was powerful – when we see CCS critiqued against renewables etc, it normally focusses on cost (to government or companies), policy, urgency, and environmental aspects, but the impact to struggling individuals whose bills may increase is rarely considered.

    One comment I don’t fully agree with is the implication that CCS doesn’t tackle the route of the problem, where catalytic converters do – as I see it, catalytic converters don’t stop the pollutants being made, but capture and bind them before release to the environment – somewhat comparable to CCS.

  7. Interesting article…

    Another ethical framework that could have been used is virtue ethics which focuses on the morals of the actors.
    Those most invested in CCS development include huge multinationals such as Shell and BP. It could be argued that the motivation for these companies is not to conserve the planet but to maintain the consumption of the fossil fuels that they produce.
    In addition the ethics of Shell in particular have been questioned on many occasions including recently in Nigeria and South America.

    1. It is very insightful that you have brought up that the oil majors in this debate. It does raise an interesting point about their motivation to implement CCS, are they doing it to prolong the use of fossil fuels which they rely on heavily or are they pushing for a place in the low carbon future.
      In reality I think both of these rationals will play a part in their motivation and as a pragmatist they should be encouraged to push forward regardless of their motive. This does not fit well in an ethical framework but is relevant in the real world

    2. This is an interesting view to bring up and it is true that CCS technology is mostly owned by large oil and gas companies.

      However who owns a huge proportion of the renewable technologies out there? I think that you will find that it is the same huge energy companies (BP, Shell, Exxon etc. ). These companies are so powerful that whatever happens they are going to end up on top. Lets make this decision thinking about whats best for the common person rather than what’s worse for these multinational companies.

  8. Great article that considers a wide range of ethical viewpoints.

    I however think that the tone of the discussion should have been different. The article seems to be questioning whether CCS is the answer to our carbon crisis or not. What needs to be discussed is should it be incorporated into a transition which takes us from our dependence on fossil fuels to a clean energy system. This is surely a technology that exists to reduce pollution whilst we get our act together and move to renewable energies.

    For me, the development of this kind of technology would have been useful 10 or 20 years ago to help us ween ourselves off our carbon addiction but now drastic action is needed.
    CCS enables big fossil fuel companies to find loopholes whilst simultaneously destroying our environment and every pound spent on its development is money that could be spent on the further development of renewable technologies.

    1. I agree with your sentiment that CCS should have been developed many years ago, however due to inaction from numerous stakeholders and the boom and bust of commodity markets this was to be unlikely.
      I feel this observation is relevant now, as without continued pressure on stakeholders the emphasis seen on the preventing carbon emissions could be lost.
      Renewable technologies are a vital element of a low carbon future but as seen by multiple studies, fossil fuel usage will continue to provide services such as base line power, petrochemical feedstocks etc.
      A common ground must be found in the argument

  9. Interesting article on such a key element of the carbon question.

    On a general note, I believe CCS does have a place in any climate change solution as we transition to a lower carbon economy. Oil and its petrochemical derivatives form a vital link in many global supply chains including pharmaceuticals, household products and transportation fuel. Until we find viable alternatives, a cleaner way of continuing production will be invaluable.

    The economic argument is particularly potent when seen through global development perspective. Investment in CCS technology should be championed in the developed world to benefit all in the society but most importunately the developing economies who rely on a more carbon intensive economy. It should not be forgotten that the rapid economic development in west was often based on heavily pollution and the exploitation of global resources.

    As highlighted in the article, applying the utilitarian framework as it is very difficult to define the benefit for the masses. Imperfect information and short term thinking amplifies this confusion, therefore it would be interesting to see some more data about what people prioritize for an assessment to be made.

    Good read and structure

  10. Nice article, I think a lot of people do not consider the financial implications when energy companies try to introduce carbon capture schemes. As great as it is the technology for CCS just is not as readily available or capable to be used commercially on a global scale yet. In order to reach that stage of innovation, companies are pouring money into their R&D which unfortunately means more energy bills for us.

    Taking a Kantian stance though I will have to go pro CCS as we do need to prioritise the planet and as concerning as they are in time once the tech is more readily available and efficient, our bills will be friendlier and we will all reap the benefits of a cleaner planet.

    1. Although I agree with your observation that CCS might not be fully ready for scale commercialisation. The infrastructure requirements for the storage and transport are enormous, they need to be made years in advance and are arguably less risky especially when considering the fact that oil transportation infrastructure could be retrofitted to handle CO2.

    2. Thank you GroovyMo for you comment,

      However i would have to disagree with you claim that CCS is not ready to be used in a commercial scale, as there is plenty of commercial scale power plants currently using CCS, for example more close to home is DRAX power plant station.

      In your opinion to suggest to go pro for CCS for the reasons to prioritise the planet, surely wouldn’t be using our resources to develop more renewable tech be more efficient?

  11. A well-balanced article with many different sides given. One thing that I struggled with was the stance that CCS will cause a rise in the price of bills. I feel that these high prices are often down to the shareholders of the energy firms expecting returns year on year without little re-investment. Therefore if the government brought in stricter rules about the level of re-investment, the price rise to the consumer could be the avoided.

    1. This raises a very interesting point, although a handful of companies are directly responsible to a significant proportion of carbon emissions there is still a debate around who should take responsibility. Shareholders play an important role in the fight against climate change as it is often easy to speak with good intentions but to take action through financial means takes a real drive.
      Ethically behaving shareholders also can push the use of CCS and should not be ignored in this debate

    2. Surely this would inevitably happen… CCS means the construction of new units, requiring more space with high temp and pressure processes. This is surely going to increase the cost of production and therefore the price of the product. I encourage you to read the summary of the report by the German government which is hyperlinked into the text which might help you.

  12. A thought provoking article, pitting opposing interpretations of the same moral frameworks against each other. Clever use of titles to get the reader thinking about the flip side of what is often seen by both the layman and engineer, as an environmentally conscious energy solution, however an additional point on the Clear Cut Solution argument may help to give a more balanced view overall.

    Within this first section I think the utilitarian point for CCS is made most effectively, offering a powerful reason to consider the value in the gateway opportunity provided to poorer or less developed countries, by a short-term energy solution. The duty ethics argument works nicely at the beginning as a reason for action against the enhanced greenhouse effect, however I am not sure how this backs up the use of CCS in particular over a shift to renewables?

    The Carbon Capture Shutdown section neatly encapsulates the political nature of this debate, and provides an interesting read with links to relevant sources which enhance the article. Given the apparent political and economic drivers dominating the outcomes of debate, further consideration could perhaps be given to who should shoulder the responsibility and how this relates to the role of ‘the engineer’?

    1. Thank you for your valued feedback, your comment about the role of the engineer is one that we have also grappled in our discussions. As an individual engineer it is rare that you are given such a important decision to control.

      However if CCS is implemented the ethical implications of the inner workings are where engineers could play a defining role. For example the use of carbon in enhanced oil recovery or the evaluation of potential sites for carbon storage could present dilemmas around future generations and the tracking and hazards around storage

  13. Interesting

    A lot more about morals and politics which NGL I don’t really have strong opinions on what is right or wrong.

    Only thing id disagree with is the fact it mentions that there would be a lack of innovation tackling the problem if CCS was implemented. I feel like CCS is a good short term solution which will allow a smooth transition from fossil fuels to Solar/renewables, and that is something that is constantly being worked on, I don’t think implementing slow down or speed up that transition because fossil fuels are going to run out at some point regardless of CCS, so that’s already a driving force for innovation with sustainable energy, this is all my opinion though

    1. I don’t think fossil fuels running out is actually a big enough driving force for innovation with sustainable energy. They are expected to last at least another 50 years and I don’t think that Oil & Gas execs are too worried about that- they will have already made enough money by then.
      For me, it surely has to be the case that CCS interest will detract interest, and therefore money, away from renewables because people could argue that we can keep going using fossil fuels.

  14. Nice article- made me think about CCS in a different way than I would have normally done.

    I do think that this article and comments are, however, very energy based. Have you thought about CCS in other industries where there may not be an easy alternative such as renewables. It’s not just fossil fuels that produce CO2!

    1. Yes, great comment, in focusing on the nitty gritty of the ethical argument I think this is a point that has been completely neglected in this conversation. In looking online electricity and heat generation makes up only 32% of man made CO2 production (https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/).

      Always good to have different perspectives as it is sometimes easy to miss really obvious points!

  15. Really enjoyed the article.

    More debate on who is responsible for its implementation would be interesting. Is it the individual consumer or is it wider society? And what about where different parts of society (eg developed v developing world) produce CO2 at different rates. The argument that developing countries need to use more cheap fossil fuels in order to achieve economic growth, whilst consumers in developed countries should pay a much higher price for their energy in order to fund CCS schemes can also be argued along utilitarian grounds, though may be difficult to put into practice, especially given that the world’s most populous country is also it’s biggest carbon producer.

    The argument about CCS possibly leading to delays in the development of better non-carbon technologies is a good one. The reduction in the use of CFC’s largely only succeeded because of the invention of new replacement technologies

  16. Well written article taking into account aspects from many ethical frameworks. i strongly agree with the kantian duty ethics you reference given it is our duty to preserve our worlds environment for both future generations of humans and animals. With that said i believe therefore from a utilitarian viewpoint that doing something about CO2, even if that means increased energy bills through CCS is a small sacrifice to make to ensure the sustainability of a world which i think makes up the majority. The article particularly made me re-think my own views however on CCS’s implementation given the longevity of burning fossil fuels or biomass in the future which is hinted at well when you advocate for the investment rather into renewables. I like how you mention how the physical storage of CO2 brings with it further issues which i feel could be developed more in ethical detail for your own work.

    1. I agree that the duty ethics framework is very potent in the debate, however it can become difficult in convincing the general public when such a significant expenditure is targeted.
      I definitely agree with your point about the further information need on the storage of carbon. This presents numerous challenges over who should take responsibility for the carbon, how to record it burial and how to manage this for future generations. Unfortunately this was out of the scope of the report but could have made an interesting topic. Especially if centred around the controversial method of enhanced oil recovery (EOR)

  17. Great article.

    I thought the utilitarian argument for implementation is strong and shapes my own view. If it benefits the majority of people then surely we should continue it’s development. I feel looking at too many ethical frameworks, whilst important, can confuse it a bit.

    1. For me this utilitarian argument doesn’t quite stand up. Surely if CCS investment wasn’t undertaken renewable technologies would take to the foreground therefore still protecting those affected by climate change.

      1. If working under the premise that investment taken out of CCS would be put into renewable development I guess that this is a strong observation.
        There, however, must be a way of ensuring that this would happen in reality. Things don’t seem very transparent at the minute and I would worry that some money would get lost on the way!

  18. I think its great how you have taken into account energy consumers. Too many people have this conversation without taking the normal man on the street into account.
    There are so many people in the UK who struggle to make ends meet- even a small increase on their bills could have a serious effect on these people.

    I’m not a scientist so I don’t know the technical detail but it seems a well balanced argument.

  19. Great read, I’d never really considered some of the negative impacts promoting CCS can have upon renewable energy which I thought was really interesting.

    In my opinion, we need to find a way for the advancement of these technologies to coincide. At some point fossil fuels reserves are going to run out which will leave an energy crisis for future generations if we do not address the problem now. I’m not sure if the theories of care ethics and utilitarianism can technically be argued for future generations as they’re not ‘people’ yet but I feel morally obliged for whatever reason. Therefore, investment into renewable energies is imperative. However, as rm pointed out, CO2 is produced in a plethora of industries, not just the energy industry, and therefore CCS is still worth developing. Increased funding into the R&D of both these technologies is the best solution for the time being.

    1. Thank you for your feedback,

      I would counter your comments about future generations, I think the entire climate change hinges around the duty of care we have to future generations. Most of the effects of climate change are considered to be long term, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather and changing ecosystems. If we do not have this key stakeholder in our arguments it could lead to skewed solutions

  20. Excellent article, this is something I have read a lot about, often being swayed by the end of the report to a different point of view! However, this article presents clear arguments with scientifically supported backing.

    Whilst I think CCS is a great option to reduce carbon emissions, it is important to consider the lengthy timescale to implement this still relatively immature technology, not to mention the extreme cost to expand the technology to wide-scale use.
    Although no one can argue that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at unacceptable levels, it might be a better use of government investment to consider further into the future to reduce carbon emissions in upcoming generations rather than short term reduction of carbon in the atmosphere through CCS.

  21. In reading and thinking about CCS quite a lot and I don’t like the fundamental idea behind the technology. We should really be facing the problem by looking at alternatives rather than just trying to contain the problem.
    The point about the burden that we are putting on younger generations bears thinking about too, what’s going to happen to all this stored carbon and what is going to happen when there isn’t anywhere else left to store it?

  22. Fantastic refreshing article, really enjoyed reading this.
    I know that people are under financial pressure (with bills etc.) but I do think that this shouldn’t be such an issue when considering the fate of our planet.
    If we aren’t doing something simply because it will incur a slight raise in the price of bills then surely government should step in with some kind of help.- we can’t destroy our planet because of a poor distribution of money.

    1. Thank you for your feedback.

      I feel the same way when it comes to way that often problems are degraded to be thought about as pounds and pence. Although this is a powerful tool especially in relation to creating incentive it can often lead to the ethical argument being thrown out the window.

      The government should look to press polluters from an environmental stewardship standpoint and also an economic one

  23. Weighing in from a non technical background, I thought the article presented some interesting points regarding an issue that is often discussed in the media with little detail beyond the cost.

    As a home owner I would like to see a solution a low carbon solution that is not the domain of the wealthy who have the buying power to invest in micro generation such as government subsidised solar panels. The utilitarian argument is particularly strong as many people are affected and I think CCS is a fair solution as the cost burden is shared across multiple stakeholders not.

    Comment made on behalf of U. Savani

  24. Very interesting article, I had not previously considered the ethical issues related to the development of CCS slowing down the development of alternative renewable energy sources

  25. Interesting and eye-opening article.

    CCS has always been portrayed as something beneficial however I had not previously considered its implications on the development of renewable energy resources. It is worrying to think that some day there could be a real problem when it comes to the transition to renewable, which is inevitable at the end of the day.

    Additionally the point about homeowners was eye-opening as I had not thought how money put into CCS means that energy prices will continue to rise. It is important for the whole of society to keep prices low.

  26. Really interesting article, well referenced helping an uninformed reader to understand the wider issue and the ethical issues are very thoroughly argued. I hadn’t considered the implications of Kant’s maxim of universality before, CCS really does seem like a cheap and hasty fix when you frame it like that.

    However, I do still think that CCS has the potential be beneficial as long as it is not treated as a long term solution.

    1. Thank you,

      Do you believe that the economic bill from using CCS as a short term solution outweighs its benefits?
      Personally i feel its better use of a resources to consume less fossil fuels and start the transition to renewable fuels

  27. Fascinating article about something I had never previously considered.

    I’m really glad that the issue of greenwashing has been brought up; this is something that is incredibly important and often pushed under the rug.
    We don’t just see it in big decisions such as this but in every day products like plastic water bottles with pictures of green landscapes which makes us subconsciously think that it is good for the environment. It’s the same with the use of paper bags which are just percieved to be good for the environment but are actually worse than plastic.

    Our planet is on the edge of it’s destruction and there needs to be a way of ensuring transparency to stop this greenwashing.

  28. Fab article with really interesting post-article discussion.

    In talking about CCS investment I presume this is talking about investment from the government? If so I think the constantly changing political landscape is another problem that needs to be navigated. We have seen it with trump pulling out of the Paris agreement is all that it takes is one short sighted politician and all the good work could be ruined. Politics encourages short term thinking about winning the next election and not the long term will that is needed here. Our planet can not be turned into a political football and should be taken out of politics in order to make meaningful progression.

    1. Thank you for the comment,

      Would completely agree that government stakeholder use the notion of CCS to appease voters to sustain a position in power.

      Interesting viewpoint in how different stakeholders underlying purpose for CCS technology implementation

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