3 minutes of reading10 May
Some MPs and experts have expressed concern that the government’s reliance on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs), which aim to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, could jeopardise its climate targets and may even allow heavy industry to avoid cutting emissions as fast as they should.
At COP26 in November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned it was “one minute to midnight” to prevent climate catastrophe, and called on the world to act. The Conservative government has pledged that it will reach net-zero by 2050. This strategy combines targets for emission reductions with new technologies that remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
However, some MPs and sector experts have warned that allowing emitters–particularly industries that produce a large amount of greenhouse gases –to rely on the use of promising but as yet untested and unproven NETs to achieve their climate goals could have unintended consequences and perhaps even prove counterproductive.
“The government is willing to play chicken with climate catastrophe for our children,” Catriona McKinnon, a Professor of Political Theory and climate ethics expert at the University of Exeter, told The House.
The government policy on NET’s was “reckless and short-sighted,” she said, adding that the speculative new technologies would first require support for research and development and a rollout that did not incentivise emitters to continue business-as-usual and “trash nature.”
The Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a cross-party parliamentary committee, has also expressed concerns about the issue. It published a concern letter following an inquiry into Technological Innovations and Climate Change.
Our research shows that there is still much detail to be explored by the government.
The Conservative chair of EAC Philip Dunne warned that these technologies were not yet developed at scale and that their impacts were not fully understood. This made it inappropriate for firms not to incorporate these targets into their carbon reduction plans.
“Negative emissions technologies are at close to zero level of deployment in the UK, and it is clear through our work that a lot of detail is yet to be fully explored by the government,” he told The HouseAdded that the biodiversity implications of NETs were also not fully understood.
In a Let me know responding to the EAC’s concerns in late April, Energy Minister Greg Hands said the government would be consulting on business models for engineered greenhouse gas removal (GGR) methods in spring 2022 to help unlock private investment in NETs and enable deployment from the mid-2020s, and also consider public attitudes towards the new technologies. He said the government’s Net Zero Strategy was designed to minimise dependence on NETs, but it also said “GGRs must not be pursued as a substitute for decisive action across the economy to reduce emissions and made explicit reference to avoiding mitigation deterrence.”
Even though the technology is still very young, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”), the United Nations body responsible for assessing science related to climate change has declared that NETs will be necessary to address global warming.
“The IPCC’s recent report is clear that carbon capture and storage has a key role to play in achieving net zero,” Thrust Carbon, a firm that aims to help companies operate more sustainably, told The House
Asked to respond to the concerns about the unintended consequences of relying on untested NETs to achieve climate goals, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government had backed the development of such technologies with £1bn of initial investment.
“We cannot turn off oil and gas overnight, so greenhouse gas removals have an essential role to play in supporting our transition to clean energy,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Dr Joshua Wells is an Environmental Policy Consultant at Dods Political Intelligence
Get the inside scoop on what MPs & Peers are talking to you. Sign upSubscribe to The House’s morning email to get the latest insights and reactions from Parliamentarians, policy-makers, and other organisations.