New technologies such as the carbon and hydrogen capture cannot be relied on to help the UK and other countries to meet its climate change targets.
The Paris agreement to be carbon neutral by 2050 hopes that both technologies would help contribute to the reduction of emissions. However, the report’s authors say minsters should assume that carbon capture and storage or hydrogen won’t be running at scale by the year 2050.
A governmental debate must begin on other controversial steps. These actions, which they say must be introduced in the near-term, include two contentious factors such as cutting down on flying and eating less red meat.
The UK law dictates that by 2050 CO2 emissions will be stopped to a halt (hopefully) but is that enough to stop or reverse the current climate crisis? Any remaining emissions will of course have to be compensated for by activities through carbon offsetting such as planting trees.
Boris Johnson regularly expresses the belief and hope that technology would in fact solve the problem in time. But the authors say that if new technology does become visible at scale in 30 years, the government should treat it as a bonus rather than an expectation.
Hydrogen technology entails generating hydrogen from natural gas, or from water.
Carbon capture and storage entails capturing CO2 emissions from power stations or industry, and burying them in rock formations or finding uses for the CO2.
However, the costs of these technologies are extremely expensive and in the modern world when things want to be done as quickly and as cheaply as possible, that could be a problem.
Government economists predicted a few years ago that gas plants equipped with CCS (Carbon capture and storage) would be producing 30% of the UK’s clean electricity in the future. Although, nuclear and renewables would produce another 30% each.
Tom Burke who is an expert on climate change, forecast that only CCS could save the world.
The equation changed because nuclear renaissance did not happen. The government pulled their funding from multiple CCS projects and this caused the cost of renewables to plummet.
However, in good news, the government has now offered new CCS funding. But for tackling carbon emissions from industrial clusters rather from power plants.
The new technology report comes from a government-funded consortium of academics from Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and ICL.
It is actually being debated in the Lords on Thursday with sponsors from Baron Browne of Ladyton. She said it carried important messages that should be heard.
The report stated that relying on breakthrough technologies to achieve zero emissions by 2050 is risky and severely delays action
“Instead, with today’s technologies we can meet the target for almost all activities, but we have no substitutes for cement, shipping, flying, lamb or beef.”
The report continued to say that the UK can anticipate having four times as much emissions-free electricity in 2050 as today if the current rates of renewables expansion continues.
This is enough to supply 60% of today’s energy-using activities if they are electrified.
It also addresses the need to close the remaining energy gap which would cause incremental changes to the way we use technologies such as buying smaller cars rather than big thirsty ones such as SUVs.
Another option that has sparked much debate is to nationalise the rail travel. Which is difficult seeing as all the rail companies are privately owned. However, with Uber and more modes of transport introducing ride sharing, it is something that can definitely be worked on in the near future.
A further option is to heat rooms in properties where only people are sitting through the winter months, rather than the whole house or implement more log burners within houses. However, that would likely cause an increase in CO2 emissions across the country.
The report says the government should also debate these issues. It says the two extremely difficult areas to de-carbonise are shipping and cement manufacture.
Julian Allwood, the leading author and professor of engineering and the environment at Cambridge University, told the BBC, “The problem with delivering climate mitigation is the tension between the government wanting to deliver solutions based on technology and protesters and scientists asking for fast action that bites much more rapidly than we can bring new technologies into place. So although new technologies may become relevant by 2100, the number operating at scale in 2050 will be very few. Probably we’ve got to deliver on climate change with today’s technologies.”
On the other hand, the message contradicts the comments made from Boris Johnson putting his faith in technology to meet the targets set for 2050. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said no one needed to fly less and that technology would indeed solve the problem.
The government has committed to having CCS in industrial after 2025 and CCS scale by the end of the decade.
The net zero scenario included 75-175 Megatonnes of CO2 to be captured and stored per year by 2050.
“Achieving net zero by 2050 requires decisive action across the economy, including developing a range of approaches and technologies”. A government spokesperson said.
Credit: Roger Harrabin – BBC environment analyst – BBC News