UK can phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

May 03 2019

The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and CCS is essential to this ambition finds the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its latest report.

Carbon capture and storage is essential says the report, “Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming.”

The CCC previously recommended that the first CCS cluster should be operational by 2026, with two clusters, capturing at least 10MtCO2, operating by 2030. The new report finds that for a net-zero target it is very likely that more will be needed. At least one of the clusters should involve substantial production of low-carbon hydrogen. The Government will need to take a lead on infrastructure development, with long-term contracts to reward carbon capture plants and encourage investment.

Main findings

Falls in cost for some of the key zero-carbon technologies mean that achieving net-zero is now possible within the economic cost that Parliament originally accepted when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008. The Committee’s report, requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018, finds that:

• The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include: a supply of low-carbon electricity (which will need to quadruple by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (required throughout the UK’s building stock), electric vehicles (which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier), developing carbon capture and storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen (which are a necessity not an option), stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill, phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, increasing tree planting, and measures to reduce emissions on farms. However, these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.

• Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050. The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.

• The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed. Rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050. However, the costs of the transition must be fair, and must be perceived as such by workers and energy bill payers. The Committee recommends that the Treasury reviews how the remaining costs of achieving net- zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.

There are multiple benefits of the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Committee’s report shows. These include benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.

In addition, the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.

CCS in the report

The Committee says it has consistently stressed the importance of CCS in achieving the current 2050 target for an 80% reduction at lowest cost and as an enabler of deeper emissions reductions beyond that. The Clean Growth Strategy stated an ambition to deploy carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) at scale during the 2030s, subject to costs coming down sufficiently. Given its strategic importance in achieving deep decarbonisation, CCS is a necessity for a net-zero target.

By 2050, CCS has a large potential role to play in multiple applications. Our Further Ambition scenario requires annual CO2 capture volumes of up to 175 MtCO2 by 2050, across industry, greenhouse gas removals (GGR), hydrogen production and power generation. While the amount of CCS for energy generation from fossil fuels could be significantly lower than we have assumed, we stress that all currently credible pathways through which the UK could reach net-zero emissions domestically all involve a significant role for CCS, especially for industry and GGR.

The evidence base (for example Pöyry and Element Energy - Potential CCS Cost Reduction Mechanisms; CCSA - Lowest cost decarbonisation for the UK: The critical role of CCS) is clear that UK deployment of CCS is required to unlock the greatest opportunities for cost reduction:

• The UK has some of the most advantageous CO2 storage potential of any country in the world, and will need a large contribution from CCS by 2050. The CO2 transport and storage infrastructure required for CCS is capital intensive and is also subject to large economies of scale – costs can be reduced significantly compared to one-off projects through sharing of large-scale infrastructure between projects. The earlier CO2 infrastructure is deployed at such scale in the UK, the earlier CCS can be deployed cost-effectively.

• Reductions in cost of capital can be achieved by proving the technology and business model in the UK. It is clear that a significant part of the reductions in the strike prices for offshore wind following deployment at scale in the UK has resulted from reductions in the cost of capital, as the technology becomes more established, and supply chains and business models develop. While technology costs can be reduced via global deployment, reductions in the cost of capital for CCS in the UK will require UK deployment.

The CCC’s assessment is that delivery of CCS requires action on CO2 infrastructure, development of the hydrogen option and policy frameworks across energy generation, industry and greenhouse gas removals:

• CO2 infrastructure. An approach to CO2 infrastructure development and funding is needed that is separate from that for individual projects. CO2 infrastructure roll-out and initial projects should lead to multiple CCS clusters being operational by the mid-2020s, and all major clusters having CO2 infrastructure by around 2030.

• Development of the hydrogen option. Given the importance of hydrogen in our net-zero scenarios, especially in industry, and the importance of CCS to its production at large scale,hydrogen production should start at scale by 2030 at each of the industrial CCS clusters.

• Policy frameworks. Delivery of CCS projects across the range of applications requires a policy framework that covers energy generation, industry and greenhouse gas removals. In addition to supporting infrastructure development, a framework to support decarbonisation of heavy industry should be developed and implemented by the end of 2022. Initial industry projects could require a support mechanism prior to this. Given the scale of BECCS that might be required by 2050, the Government should aim to have an initial BECCS project at scale early on (e.g. by around 2030).

Given the lack of progress to date on CCS and its greater role as ambition goes beyond an 80% reduction by 2050, progress in deploying CCS in the 2020s is a crucial enabler to putting the UK on track to meeting a net-zero target.


Committee on Climate Change

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