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expert reaction to inquiry into the future of UK Carbon Capture and Storage

The parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Select Committee has published a report on the future of UK carbon capture and storage which says that, without it, meeting climate change targets will be more difficult.


Prof. Jim Watson, Director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), said:

“The decision to cancel the £1bn CCS demonstration programme carries large risks. In the absence of a new plan for CCS, the UK is effectively outsourcing demonstration and commercialisation to other countries. Whilst the UK cannot be a leader in all technologies, this was the only significant large-scale demonstration programme in the EU – and one of a handful of active programmes worldwide.

“The government is right that CCS technologies are relatively expensive at the moment, but this has led them to draw the wrong conclusion. History shows that that the first full scale plants using a new technology often have high costs. But if they wish to see those costs fall in line with industry ambitions, the UK and other countries will need to back further demonstrations. Costs are unlikely to fall in the absence of learning by doing and significant support from governments.

“The lack of an active CCS programme makes UK energy policy look incoherent. Given that the government wishes to replace coal-fired power with gas as part of its emissions reduction plans, significant CCS deployment will be increasingly essential. Otherwise, gas demand is likely to have to fall sharply from the mid-2020s onwards”.


Prof. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford, said:

“The report understandably focusses on the need for CCS to meet the UK’s climate targets affordably. This is not the main reason we should be investing in CCS. If relatively rich countries like the UK and Germany decide to spend more money than they need to meet their climate targets by relying on off-shore-wind or next-generation-nuclear instead of CCS, you could argue that it doesn’t really matter for the world as a whole, although it might matter a lot for the long-suffering taxpayers of the UK and Germany.

“Coming out of Paris, the global climate change challenge is startlingly simple: either we ban countries with large fossil fuel reserves from using them at all; or we develop the technologies required to use fossil fuel without dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, which means CCS. Anyone who thinks that wind, solar or nuclear power will soon provide cheaper substitutes for all applications of fossil fuels – such that all countries will decide of their own volition to leave proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground forever – is delusional. The world will remain awash with fossil energy for the foreseeable future. If the government has decided to go for a global fossil fuel ban, then I think they should tell us.

“So the worst consequence of the government’s decision was its impact on international confidence. Plenty of people in Paris were wondering how long Japan would keep investing in CCS if the UK, with much more favourable conditions and an offshore industry literally begging for new challenges, was pulling out. No wonder Amber Rudd was keeping a low profile.”


Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of CCS at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Protecting the earth’s atmosphere and oceans means taking carbon emissions to zero. The UK is a country that plans to reduce carbon emissions to zero by burning more carbon as gas.

“UK doublethink signed up at CoP21 in Paris, the world’s largest climate change meeting, to guarantee that fossil fuel extraction is balanced by storage before 2050. A week earlier, the UK cancelled CCS – its only means of re-capturing carbon. New nuclear has not been agreed by its developers. Renewable development incentives have been slashed. Energy efficiency developments are stopped. Which means there is no Plan B, just a “more gas” Plan A from the 1960’s. Can the UK join-up and explain its energy policy dots; or is it just scribble?

“On 8th February the UK opened Shetland Gas Terminal, to be amongst the largest hydrocarbon production sites in NW Europe to at least 2045, and intends to build 10 giant new gas fuelled power plant. Government plans to exempt these from carbon capture. This is just one example that the world is flooded with low cost fossil fuel. But continued use of fossil fuels can only work if the harmful gases avoid killing the atmosphere, and the ocean, and us – by using CCS.

“There are many ways of making CCS into a business. The UK has tried just one, with the same outcome three times. Disruptive low-carbon development by Norway, USA, Canada and China can leave the UK stranded. Very rapid UK business innovation is needed, to develop net-zero carbon, and value, across the whole global economy before 2050. The carbon world is step-changing after Paris CoP; will the UK change and think long-term, and think international? If the UK can develop an operational CCS business, that will again change the world.”


* The future of CCS in the UK published by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on Wednesday 10 February 2016.


Declared interests

Prof. Allen: My research group received an unrestricted grant of £30k from Shell to explore policy mechanisms for incentivising CCS.

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