Environmental organizations are initiating legal action on Nov. 13 against the UK government’s plans to allocate billions to Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). This technology, also promoted by the European Union, is designed to remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.
According to the plaintiffs, BECCS is based on flawed accounting assumptions, as it categorizes the carbon captured from wood burning as negative emissions, when the process is, at best, neutral, Euroactiv reported.
In a statement issued by The Lifescape Project and the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PPI), the two environmental groups taking legal action said that the government’s justification for BECCS as providing negative emissions “violates international carbon accounting protocols underpinning the Paris Agreement, to which the UK is a signatory.”
The UK government’s biomass strategy, released in August, features a section on BECCS, asserting its potential for negative emissions. BECCS operates on the premise that growing trees and plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, so burning biomass for power while capturing emissions for underground storage should yield negative emissions.
Scientists, however, emphasize that negative emissions only happen after new trees are planted and grow enough to offset the same amount of carbon dioxide, a process known as the ‘carbon payback period,’ which can span several decades. This process is also highly uncertain and depends on the specific type of biomass used.
Even BECCS supporters recognize certain conditions. In the UK’s biomass strategy, it’s noted that legitimate carbon removal relies on “well-regulated” biomass sourcing, emphasizing sustainability and proper certification to prevent deforestation, Euractiv reported.
Campaigners contend that, at best, BECCS should be seen as having zero emissions and not as a short-term solution for negative emissions. Additionally, UN accounting rules classify wood harvesting as a carbon source that contributes CO2 to the atmosphere, and it’s treated as zero in the energy sector to avoid double-counting emissions.
Mary Booth, director at PPI, told Euractiv that recalculating emissions when biomass is burned represents either a mathematical error or a carbon accounting trick.
“They are committing the first deadly sin of carbon inventories – they are double-counting the removal of the carbon,” Booth said. “It’s really not an exaggeration to say that the whole scheme is based on the inability or unwillingness of policymakers to do the math!”
The UK legal case may have broader implications, extending beyond the country and potentially affecting the European Union’s promotion of BECCS as a technology for achieving negative emissions, campaigners say.