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Government greenhouse gas targets offer heavy emitters a free pass

29 March 2022

Current Government policy on technologies that suck carbon out of the air could see heavy emitters dodge their responsibilities to cut emissions, the Environmental Audit Committee warns Ministers today.

At present, targets for greenhouse gas reductions and removal targets are combined, offering little incentive for industries to prioritise cutting emissions when the future option of negative emission technologies (NETs) is there. The EAC has therefore written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to demand that the Government reviews its approach.

The EAC recognises the value in using NETs in industries such as steel and cement, where options to decarbonise are often more limited. However, MPs argue that the Government is failing to take swift enough action to roll out technologies, with both BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) and DACCS (direct air carbon capture and storage) at close to zero levels of deployment in the UK.

Having reviewed the evidence it received on the issue, the EAC is concerned that Government thinking in this area has been limited and opportunities risk being missed. The Government is yet to specify what sectors could benefit from NETS, and there is currently no direction on the transport and infrastructure projects that are necessary to roll out NETs.

Net zero cannot be met without technologies to remove emissions from hard-to-decarbonise sectors. The EAC heard that the UK was well situated to deliver engineered greenhouse gas removals, given its access to some of the best geological storage in Europe. The sector’s “number one ask” is for economic support to generate private investment to support projects go further, and the Committee presses the Government to set out its strategy here.

MPs point out that clarity is urgently needed in Government policy on developing BECCS, amid concerns that it could result in widespread land use change which in turn could threaten improvements in biodiversity. They press for this to be addressed in the Government’s forthcoming Biomass Strategy to ensure BECCS development is robustly monitored and any risks are mitigated.

Chair's comment 

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“Through our work, it is clear that Government thinking on negative emissions technologies needs to be developed. These technologies will play an important role in meeting net zero, because to maintain viability of our steel and cement sectors they need to find ways to restrict the volume of greenhouse gases they emit.

“Presently there is little in terms of incentive, and very little in terms of any Government direction or clarity. The fact that removal and reduction targets are combined enables many sectors averse or unable to cut emissions to dodge their responsibilities. Transparency and accountability must be improved by separating these targets out and highlighting the work that needs to be done.

“The sector is raring to go as soon as the Government offers direction and clarity, but with so many unknowns we can understand why deployment of NETs in the UK is yet to gain traction.”

Further information

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