An Interview with Jason Shogren Carbon GeoCapture Advisory Member

Last month, world leaders, scientists, CEOs, and activists alike gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) to discuss global progress in the fight against climate change and determine how to move forward and ensure accountability on climate commitments. COP 26 centered around an accelerated shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, focusing on “phasing down” coal and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Despite the urgent emphasis placed on phasing down coal, though, it remains unfeasible to eliminate coal in the short-term. In fact, many coal-reliant countries will not eliminate coal usage until the 2040s or later, due in part to industrial and heavy industry sectors which are notoriously hard to decarbonize.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies have been targeted by many as a key solution that will be imperative to decarbonizing heavy industries while simultaneously executing solutions to ultimately phase out coal. To discuss the state of carbon capture and storage, including its emphasis at COP 26 and beyond, and how it could positively impact climate goals, we spoke with Jason Shogren. Shogren currently serves as the Stroock Chair of Natural Resource Conservation and Management in the Department of Economics at the University of Wyoming and is an advisory board member of Carbon GeoCapture. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: You’re not a stranger to UN Climate Conferences. When was your first engagement with COP, and in what capacity?

JS: I was a senior economist in charge of environmental affairs in the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) for the Clinton administration. The Administration was actively involved in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and was very supportive of what Kyoto was trying to achieve, like having countries publicly commit to “targets and timetables” to reduce their carbon emissions for the first time.

Dr. Janet Yellen (currently the Secretary of the Treasury) was the Chair of the CEA at the time, and my role was to provide an economic analysis of the components outlined in Kyoto. Specifically, I provided Janet with the economic “pros and cons” of Kyoto and left the politics to her. I framed my analysis like an insurance problem: focus the discussion on the trade-offs between risks and returns. I looked at such things as current technologies on the market and could they be scaled, the new technologies being proposed and their likely adoption, what were the relative costs, and what was the level of carbon that could be removed.

In your mind, what were the greatest accomplishments and disappointments coming out of COP in Glasgow?

Glasgow produced a mixed bag of results. On the positive side, at the conclusion of the conference, countries agreed to accelerate action to cut global emissions in half, to reach the temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Glasgow also signaled an accelerated shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

The Conference also called for a phase down of coal and a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies – two key issues that had never been explicitly mentioned in such detail in a formal decision at climate talks. Countries also reached a deal to create an international carbon market and ensure emissions reductions are not double counted among countries.

At the same time, there were disappointments. Despite the call in the Glasgow Climate Pact for a “phase-down” in coal power, it’s still not feasible to eliminate coal in the short run. Some coal-reliant countries have indicated that they will not completely stop using coal until the 2040s or later. While richer, developed countries promised more financial aid to poorer countries, the level of funding did not match the need. The greatest disappointment, from my perspective, was the fact that there is still no formal treaty that would legally bind countries to reduce their emissions.

How do you think carbon capture and storage (CCS) fared at COP?

Glasgow confirmed CC&S as a viable part of the mix needed to reach midcentury climate goals that should be viewed as a tool to assist with hard-to-remove carbon from industrial, heavy industry sectors and agriculture.

What’s not clear to me, however, is the level of emphasis CCS will receive from governments, activists, and investors. Although many at the conference have a “wait and see” attitude on the scalability of these technologies and if they can be done at a competitive cost, Glasgow signaled that CCS technologies are worth pursuing and there is growing support for CCS. While governments have not yet begun to move the majority of subsidies from fossil fuels to CCS, I’m optimistic that governments will subsidize the growth of this sector.

What led you to join Carbon GeoCapture as an advisor?

I have known John [Pope] for nearly two decades, first as a friend of a friend and now as a colleague in a professional capacity. I’m a big proponent of what he’s bringing to the market for CCS. I think I can help John and his team to better understand the economic tradeoffs involved and quantify the costs and benefits of bringing Carbon GeoCapture to scale. I am not a financial officer or an accountant; rather I see my role as being able to help discuss the local, regional, and national policy tradeoffs, opportunities, and roadblocks that exist or could arise in the future, and in my public remarks and work, frame how the company fits into the larger picture of carbon removal and storage.

In your mind, what sets Carbon GeoCapture apart in this industry?

There are several areas that I think set this company apart from others, including the ability to use unconventional rock formations—coal and shale—to store carbon. This innovation holds the promise of being able to both significantly scale carbon capture, because coal fields are located throughout the world, and do it far cheaper than current methods, because coal and shale are much closer to the surface than what is the practice today of injecting carbon deep into the ground.

Potentially the most unique aspect of this technology is the fact that, for the first time, society is thinking about using coal in a manner more than just burning it for energy. We can use coal in product design; and importantly for CCS, we could very well use it to store carbon cost-effectively. Instead of letting coal stay in the ground, we can use it in such a way that will no longer consider coal as a “stranded asset” that has no financial value. This ability to use coal in different capacities will provide jobs and income to threatened coal-reliant communities in Wyoming and beyond. If John can validate this in Carbon GeoCapture’s pilot, it will truly be a game changer.

A member of Carbon GeoCapture’s Advisory Board, Jason Shogren currently serves as the Stroock Chair of Natural Resource Conservation and Management in the Department of Economics at his alma mater, the University of Wyoming. He studies the behavioral foundations of economic and environmental policy, including the economics of climate change, biodiversity, and non-market institutions to provide private and public goods and services. In 2001, Shogren was a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was honored with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He has previously served as a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and professor to King Carl XVI Gustaf of Swede, and he is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.