The Environmental Audit Committee – the cross party that scrutinizes the UK Government’s performance on environmental protection and sustainable development, has sent a letter to the Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng questioning his plans to burn biomass or the implementation of carbon capture as ways to help the country meet its climate targets.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned that the carbon capture technologies that take CO2 from the source or from ambient air and store it underground or use it back to make products, could distract heavy emitters from seizing their emissions and thus “dodge their responsibilities”.
According to the letter, burning biomass is another concern as it is based on beliefs that trees will re-absorb the same amount of carbon when they grow back as the amount they emit from burning, which might not always be the case.
The committee also cited concerns about the additional emissions from transporting the woody biomass, or those related to transportation and storing of the CO2 underground. They also warned that increased competition for land to generate the woody biomass could impact food prices and biodiversity.
“Claims that biomass with carbon capture is carbon negative are questionable… Unless the genuine negative emissions of BECCS can be proven, we should be wary of committing taxpayers’ money to support this new industry when cheaper and greener alternatives already exist,” said Duncan Baker, Conservative MP and committee member.
Currently, the industries have little incentive to stop emitting greenhouse gasses and reduce only the unavoidable emissions with carbon removal technologies. They do not prioritize doing what is best for true decarbonization of the economy and the environment when the future option of negative emission technologies (NETs) is there.
At present, carbon removal targets and targets for greenhouse gas reduction are put at the same altitude, therefore, the EAC has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to demand that the Government reviews its approach.
Following the current approach, risks the country not meeting its net zero targets as biomass and carbon capture technologies could provide less CO2 reduction than initially planned for.
Several major carbon capture and storage projects have announced last year their inability to meet the previously set CCS targets. Chevron, for example, managed to achieve 30% of initial projections for carbon capture and sequestration for its project Gorgon for liquefied natural gas in the first 5 years of operations. The goal was for a minimum of 80%.
“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,” said Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne.
The letter by EAC raises critical questions that if left undealt with, could jeopardize the world’s efforts to truly achieve net zero. Even though it has been categorized as renewable energy, burning biomass is a controversial method and leaves room for deceptive practices while carbon capture could be used by oil and gas companies as leverage to continue fossil fuel exploration and utilization in our economy. True decarbonization requires bold and drastic changes and both policymakers and corporations will have to adapt to the new reality.