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Correspondence: Technological innovations and climate change: negative emissions technologies

28 April 2022

Numerous consultations on negative emissions technologies (NETs) are currently holding up deployment of methods that could initially suck 5MtCO2/yr from the atmosphere by 2030, despite the Government’s ambition to roll them out.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has heard that NETs to remove greenhouse gases offer significant potential, but require Government clarity on progressing their deployment at scale.

In his response to a letter from the EAC, which had been based on extensive written and oral evidence, Energy Minister Rt Hon Greg Hands MP has explained that a consultation is pending on the business models for engineered greenhouse gas removals, which could unlock private investment, as well as on the core monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) principles for negative emissions technologies. A further consultation has recently been launched on the role of the UK emissions trading scheme (UK ETS) as a long-term market for carbon extracted from the atmosphere by both engineered and nature-based greenhouse gas removals.

The EAC had asked for assurances that the promise of NETs could not be used by major emitters as a ‘magic bullet’ to avoid their present responsibilities to cut their own carbon emissions. While the ‘delivery pathway’ in the Government’s Net Zero Strategy is said to ‘minimise reliance’ on the use of NETs, risks remain that the hard work in reducing emissions may be postponed in the hope that NETs will eventually achieve required reductions.

The EAC raised concerns that deployment of bioenergy carbon capture and storage technologies (BECCS) risk threatening the health of the natural environment. While welcoming the Government’s commitment that BECCS technologies approved for use in the UK would use only sustainable biomass and would result in genuine net-negative emissions, the Committee is not currently reassured that nature and the environment will be fully protected from adverse effects. A biomass strategy, where further detail will be outlined, is due for publication later in 2022.

The EAC is pleased to note that the Government’s plans for management of extracted CO2 are prioritising innovative clusters around the country to start work on building a transport and storage network. Commercial negotiations with operators and emitters are set to begin this summer: but time is running out for commercial operations to start by the mid-2020s.

Chair's comment

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

“The Government’s modest response has done little to fill our Committee with confidence that negative emissions technologies can play the important and decisive role in net zero Britain that the Government anticipates. At the current rate of progress, it requires a leap of faith to see how NETs will be deployed to take a mere 5MtCO2/yr out of the atmosphere by 2030, let alone to see the ambitious scale-up plan envisaged for the following decade.

“For an effective roll-out, we need to see adequate environmental protections, frameworks for business models which can drive investment, as well as meaningful deterrents to high emitting companies tempted to rely on negative emissions technologies rather than cutting their own emissions. The Government’s current position has not reassured us in all these areas. I trust that the Government’s actions in response to its consultations will demonstrate that the pace of work in this area will soon accelerate.”

Further information

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