“Solutions require people working together, understanding the various aspects of a problem”

While COP25 was at full speed in Madrid, we met with the Director of Bellona Europa, Jonas Helseth to talk about solutions.

Words

Anne-Sophie Garrigou

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Jonas Helseth is the Director of Bellona Europa, an environmental NGO that works with the scientific community, companies, public authorities and civil society to advance the solutions which show the greatest potential to transition to zero emissions across the economy. One of its main goals is to put Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) at the heart of the political agenda. We met with Jonas Helseth at COP25 in Madrid and asked him why he thinks CSS is the future, and what are the main policies his organisation recommends to fight the climate crisis.

Where does your commitment to the environment come from?

Good question. Already as a child, I was a member of an environmental organisation for kids in Norway, Blekkulf — an octopus that taught kids about the value of ecosystems and nature. But my professional career choice to work on climate change came as much from my initial job after my studies: I was working for the Norwegian government at its representation to the European Union. The domination of fossil energy interest (oil and gas) of Norway’s European policy agenda was shameful — hence I moved to the other side of the table, to influence not only Norway but the EU too in the good direction.

Bellona is working so that companies be prepared to tackle environmental challenges. Can you tell us a little bit more about the main missions of your organisation?

Bellona works on solutions for the environmental and climatic challenges facing us. We work on all aspects of environmental protection, but the fight against disastrous climate change has come to underpin most of our work, given the impact it has on ecosystems and our entire livelihood.

Without solutions, challenges of this kind lead only to apathy. Solutions require people working together, understanding the various aspects of a problem. We work with the scientific community, companies, public authorities and civil society to advance the solutions which show the greatest potential for moving us rapidly to zero emissions across the economy. Keeping in mind what impact action in one sector might have on other sectors — the system perspective — is critical to get things right. While we have a partnership with companies, in which we agree on a scope with aims to achieve together, we never hold back our criticism if our partners act in detrimental ways.

We know that it is crucial to ensure we implement today the available technologies that we already know will be needed tomorrow. At Bellona, you believe carbon capture and storage is one of the few solutions that can be implemented today and at scale. Could you talk a little bit about this?

Back in 2009 at the COP15 in Copenhagen, we presented 101 solutions, carbon capture and storage (CCS) being one of the many. Some of them can contribute to getting us to net zero emissions faster, and we need them urgently. The reason why we work on CCS is that the climate science is crystal clear; it is needed on a massive scale to enable deep decarbonisation in industries across the economy, and likely to allow negative emissions at sufficient scale. Infrastructure on such a scale takes years to build, therefore we need governments to act now and to get serious on this while regulating CCS infrastructure in a way that ensures it doesn’t become a cash cow for the petroleum industry. Many industry leaders know, but dare not speak because they do not trust governments to help them access CO2 storage. Governments often wait for clarity from industry on climate solutions. This chicken and egg situation must end now: we need massive action.

One thing that is clear today is that current policies are insufficient to incentivise industry to decarbonise deeply and invest in the deployment of necessary technologies. What are the main deep changes in policy that you would recommend?

This is indeed clear. At the moment, for some industries, taking ambitious climate action could be a liability. We have to turn it into an opportunity. Creating initial markets for decarbonised products, notably steel, cement and chemicals, for example via public procurement requirements/rules, can provide the industry with enough certainty for investments. We already see several cities working on this, as major consumers of construction materials. Once there is an initial market and production is ramping up, mandatory CO2 product standards and labelling can then follow to force other producers to do the same.

For the industries that require CO2 storage at scale however, governments have to play a supporting and coordinating role in providing shared infrastructure, to drive down the cost for society as a whole. We all consume those products — we must work together to enable their production to clean up. We have the technology to do this in the next decade — and a responsibility to implement it.