Locked-In Emissions From Oil Refineries Endanger Climate Goals
(Bloomberg) -- Oil refineries are set to emit billions of tons of carbon dioxide after 2050, the year by which scientists say the world must reach carbon neutrality in order to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to a new study.
China and India are propelling growth in oil products with scores of new plants that will lock in higher greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades, scientists at Tsinghua University wrote in the report published Friday in the journal One Earth. Without a dramatic overhaul to clean up operations, refiners are poised to emit an additional 8.2 billion tons of pollution beyond mid-century, the study showed.
“Carbon dioxide emissions of oil refineries will continue to grow in the next decade, mainly driven by Asia, with numerous young refineries and planned refineries,” the authors wrote. The region, especially East Asia, “will become not only the core of the world’s oil refining industry but also one of the key areas for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”
The 1,056 refineries already in operation globally are poised to add 16.5 billion tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere this decade — equivalent to more than three years’ worth of total U.S. emissions. Meanwhile growing energy demand has shifted oil refining activities to developing countries. Before 2009, pollution came mainly came from decades-old refineries in Western countries. Since then, plants younger than 20-years-old located in China and India have become the main contributors of greenhouse gases.
Owners need to begin investing now in cleaner refining processes or risk “greatly surpassing the net-zero carbon emission target of 2050,” wrote the study’s authors, which included scientists from the Netherlands and U.K. Refiners could cut emissions by more than 1.6 billion tons this decade by boosting efficiency and upgrading heavy-oil processing technologies, they said.
“There is an urgent need for these refineries to adopt low-carbon technologies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions,” said Dabo Guan, one of the authors. “As for middle-aged and old refineries, improving operational efficiency, eliminating backward capacity and speeding up the upgrading of refining configuration are the key means to balance growing demand and reduce emissions.”
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