Government have delayed cutting emissions today on the gamble that we'll be able to remove those emissions tomorrow, with so-called 'Negative Emissions Technologies'. These NETs are entirely unproven at scale and some are purely speculative. 

The latest version of the CEE Bill now will not permit the use of NET to avoid cutting emissions now. The Bill instead requires that we cut CO2 emissions as far as fast as possible. 

The CEE Bill will still permit NETs to be used to remove historic emissions already in the atmosphere - but ONLY if it's clear they won't adversely impact nature. Leading scientists such as Sir David King argue that even warming of 1.5°C is too dangerous, and so we must work to reduce CO2 levels to bring average temperatures back to safe levels.

The Government is pushing various technologies such as BECCS and DACCS despite warnings from scientists of major damage to nature, air quality problems, competition with food and eye-water costs to the taxpayer. What's more, they are not even likely to work. 

The Oct 2021 Net Zero plan assumes that NETs will remove 58 million tonnes of CO2 every year by 2050 - reaching the size of today's construction sector! The cost will fall heavily on future taxpayers who will be faced with an impossible choice: spend vast amounts of money and resources on controversial projects to clean up after our mess, or deal with the consequences of dangerous global heating. We should take responsibility for our actions now and cut emissions as fast as possible, not pass the buck to our children.

Answer

BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture) forms a major part of the plans and is centred around Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. Drax currently burns wood/biomass pellets to make electricity. The plan is to build plant to capture the resulting CO2 and pump it underground. But Government plans to scale this up to around 2.4 times the existing size of Drax (making electricity and hydrogen).  There are major problems

  • Drax already uses over 50% of the global wood pellet supply, harvesting virgin forests in USA and E Europe. Aside from the damage this is wreaking on nature, it's naive to think we'll be able to continue doing this. 
  • The NZ Strategy warns of 'significant local and regional negative air quality impacts' - p334
  • There's no guarantee this will even work. Multiple projects in the USA have been abandoned despite spending of over $7 billion.
  • Academics warn that the entire process won't even be carbon-negative, because the huge energy requirements to harvest, chip and ship the timber are ignored - and so is the fact that the felled mature trees will no longer be absorbing carbon. Even when replanted, it takes around 15 years, for new woodland to start absorbing carbon. More info: Ember study.
  • Costs are enormous. Ember estimate £32 billion of taxpayer support just for Drax - but we're scaling that up by 2.4 times, including BECCS for hydrogen for which no plant even exists yet.

 

DACCS (Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage) has been uprated from 5 million tonnes CO2 per year by 2050 in the original 2019 plan to 'up to' 29 million tonnes in the latest NZ strategy report. It is not good optics that oil company Exxon's UK manager sits on the Government's advisory committee on carbon capture...  The only operational DACCS plant is Orca in Iceland. But that will only capture 4,000 tonnes CO2 per year.   Problems with DACCS

  • The UK would need up to 7,250 of these plants by 2050 to achieve 29 million tonnes of CO2 removal. That means building 21 Orca's every single day. There's no chance whatsoever of even managing a fraction of this, with our lengthy planning processes, and the need to build an entire industry with appropriate skills.
  • Based on the cost of Orca, capital costs could be over £50 billion. But the taxpayer would have to pay for all running costs too, because unlike BECCS, there's no product. The only 'return' is survival. And as this is a very high energy process, operating costs are expected to be high.  All paid for by our children.
  • With the enormous expansion needed to our electricity grid in order to electrify homes and transport, we will struggle to supply all our power needs with renewables by 2050. Adding this huge number of power hungry processing plants will require gas power stations to run, causing CO2 emissions, and thereby cancelling out the 'benefit' of the DACCS plants. Orca in Iceland runs on their abundant hydro power.
  • There is no evidence of sites in the UK with the right geology to allow the CO2 to be locked away. 

What will happen if we continue on this line, and in say 15 years accept these NETs haven't worked? By then, it will be too late. Because the alternative to using NETs is cut emissions much faster now.

The Bill calls for this accounting 'sleight of hand’ to end, and prohibits what is in effect reckless borrowing against our carbon budget.

Whilst the Bill effectively prohibits NETs from being used as an excuse to continue emitting CO2 (for the reasons described above), it does permit the development of NETs to reduce carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere from our historic emissions. We have all seen the dreadful impacts of climate change even at today’s 1.1°C of warming, and we know that current carbon dioxide levels are already too high for a long-term stable climate.

More info on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) in this Carbon Brief article and a detailed critique by leading scientist Prof Kevin Anderson - link.