In a report to be published later today, the European Court of Auditors will say that the EU spent more than €424 million ($486 million) over the past decade fruitlessly trying to establish carbon-capture technology.
The EU considers the technology crucial to hit its climate goals, which will require the union’s member states to reach net-zero emissions within decades.
Carbon capture traps emissions from power plants and chemical industries and buries them deep underground. The technology has been in commercial use since the 1970s, when oil companies used carbon dioxide to extract oil from depleting oilfields. Later, in the 1990s, Norway established a way to use the technology as a means to fight climate change, by burying carbon dioxide into saline aquifers, where it can remain for thousands of years. Carbon capture remains the only working technology that can be used to eliminate emissions from certain types of emitters, such as the cement industry. (Last year, Quartz published an award-winning series on the technology’s challenges and opportunities.)
The auditors’ report investigated two EU programs: the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR), with a budget of €4 billion, and the New Entrants’ Reserve 300 (NER300), with a budget of €2.1 billion. Both were launched in 2009 after the financial crisis to aid economic recovery and move the needle on climate action. Their goals were specifically to support the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and new types of renewable energy. (This article will focus on CCS spending. The report has details about the other investments.)
To date, the EEPR has spent €424 million on six CCS projects in Germany, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and Spain. “Four out of these six co-funded projects had ended after the grant agreement was terminated, and one project ended without being completed. The only completed project did not represent a commercial size CCS demonstration project,” the report concludes. Though some CCS projects were awarded NER300 grants, none were completed and thus the grant money was never spent.
“We conclude that neither of the programmes succeeded to deploy CCS in the EU,” the auditors write. The reasons for failure are tied to uncertain regulations and tight project requirements. In other words, the auditors conclude, the EU underestimated the hurdles in commercializing a nascent climate technology.