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Technology and innovation are emerging dimensions of climate discourse in contemporary times. Climate technologies  are rapidly becoming instrumental in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to the detrimental impacts of climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stipulates in Article 4 that all parties shall ‘promote and cooperate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer of, technologies…that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.’ In this regard, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology has the potential to expedite endeavours towards climate change mitigation in environmentally vulnerable countries.  

CCS technology undertakes decarbonisation by capturing carbon emissions released from large-scale fossil-based energy and industry sources provided geological storage is available. The carbon is, subsequently, transported via a network of pipelines for storage underneath the earth. Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) is an extension of CCS, involving the recycling of carbon back into economic activity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and COP28 have also endorsed CCS technology, affirming that decarbonisation efforts can be complemented by mitigation strategies to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. CCS technology has been commercially deployed by approximately 265 projects globally, with around 40 currently in operation. The United States leads the global race in CCS projects, followed by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway.

As is often observed, Pakistan is the 8th most vulnerable country to climate change. The devastating floods of 2022 resulted in total loss and damage amounting to approximately PKR 3.3 trillion and PKR 3.2 trillion, respectively. Furthermore, the country’s carbon emissions stand at approximately 234.75 million tonnes. Under the Paris Agreement, Pakistan has pledged to reduce its emissions by half by 2030. Therefore, it is crucial to contextualise the discourse on CCS technology within the national framework and assess its domestic viability.

When it comes to Pakistan, the development of CCS technology is not a convenient undertaking as it comes with certain challenges. First and foremost, this technology continues to be highly costly owing to design complexities coupled with technological and infrastructural requirements. The CCS cost ranges from USD 15 to 130  per metric ton of carbon dioxide. Although the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) calls for its indigenous development, Pakistan may not be in a fiscally feasible position to undertake CCS projects given its economic straits. In addition, some CCS facilities have been found to be susceptible to underground carbon leakages which could contaminate groundwater and cause other environmental risks.

At present, Pakistan would be well-advised to focus more on adaptation technologies as its share in global emissions is less than 1% while being at the forefront of climate-related threats. Hence, innovations in adaptation domain ought to be prioritised more than those in mitigation. Nonetheless, the feasibility of CCS technology could be possible in future once the country acquires adequate fiscal space to fund such costly projects. The country would also take substantial time to acquire technical expertise and advanced environmental understanding for the establishment of regulatory frameworks in this domain. In the meanwhile, the government could kickstart Research and Development (R&D) in this sector. This would allow the relevant stakeholders to develop technical know-how as well as contextual understanding vis-á-vis CCS technology. For now, Pakistan should focus more on the design, development and operationalisation of adaptation technologies such as efforts for rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation to enhance water efficiency; developing climate-resilient crops and precision agriculture technologies for sustainable farming; expanding mangrove reforestation and deploying advanced early warning systems for coastal and flood protection; promoting green infrastructure and climate-resilient housing in urban areas; adopting solar energy solutions like solar water heaters and solar pumps; engaging in community-based adaptation projects; and establishing climate-resilient policies and financing mechanisms to support adaptation technologies. Collaboration with the private sector in these areas could also help rejuvenate economic activity, entailing business opportunities and employment prospects for the local population. Pakistan’s mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement could be materialised through a phased transition to renewable energy, rather than undertaking costly CCS ventures in an economically strained position.

To conclude, the role of climate technologies, in general, and CCS technology, in particular, in addressing environmental issues cannot be overlooked. However, the development of any technology should be based on the contextual and environmental realities of a particular country. Since Pakistan reels from multifaceted environmental threats while contributing quite marginally to global emissions, it ought to focus more on adaptation technologies rather than mitigation ones.

Shah Muhammad is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@casstt.com.

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