Greenhouse gas removal technologies crucial to achieving climate goals
By World Infrastructure Journal-
A recently published report from the NIC has claimed that the UK will be unable to reach its climate obligations unless it commits to “the wide-scale deployment of new greenhouse gas removal technologies by 2030. ” It is important, however, that the deployment of those new technologies is seen as supporting, rather than replacing, ongoing decarbonisation efforts.
According to the newest report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the UK will need to begin utilising greenhouse removal technologies by 2030 if it hopes to achieve its current targets for limiting climate change. While the engineered removal and storage of CO2 is not “everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit,” the NIC claims this practice is the most realistic way to mitigate future emissions from sectors that currently lack feasible decarbonisation solutions (namely aviation and agriculture).
These sectors are predicted to continue producing large quantities of greenhouse gases well into the 2040s. This is on such a large scale that engineered greenhouse gas removal could potentially pull in revenues that match the UK’s water sector by 2050.
There are two different kinds of removal technologies that the NIC report discusses; those that extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere; and those that capture and store the CO2 emitted by the process of transforming biomass into bioenergy. Both methods ultimately end up storing the captured CO2 permanently, usually under the seabed. According to the report, these technologies will play a crucial role if the 2050 net zero targets are to be met, and so it is recommended that the government immediately begin making moves to kick start the sector (which must become viable by the 2030s). This means the UK will need to have the capacity to remove 5 to 10 megatonnes of CO2 by 2030, and the ability to dispose of 40 to 100 megatonnes by 2050. These technologies, however, will not only have utility in the UK. The NIC predicts that removal technologies will become globally useful within the next couple decades, and as such the work the UK does now to develop the industry could position it as a world-leader for decades to come.
Doing that work is then crucial, as by some estimates the greenhouse gas removals market could see revenues of £2 billion a year by as early as 2030. However while the NIC report states that the development of greenhouse removal technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere,” there are clear signs indicating otherwise.
Perhaps the clearest example of this would be the lacklustre efforts of the “Jet Zero Council." This has looked to “green” the UK’s aviation industry with the paltry commitment of roughly £30 million in funding towards research into renewable fuels and infrastructure. The lack of funding, however, is only compounded by the impossibility of the task they have set themselves. Even the most optimistic and committed agencies, such as the Port of Seattle, say that the use of “a 10 per cent blend of sustainable aviation fuel in every flight in and out of the airport” will only be possible by 2028 at the earliest. This means that even if the Jet Zero Council starts providing adequate funding, they will still be unable to significantly reduce aviation emissions before 2050.
The solution, then, is to encourage passengers to take less flights and to improve the capacity of other sectors to accommodate those travellers. However, by choosing not to do so, and instead pushing for the creation of greenhouse gas removal technologies, it would appear that the NIC is in fact helping to delay “necessary action. ” As such, the sectors that the NIC has specifically stated removal technologies will not assist (namely road transport and power) are only those where the shift towards the use of renewable resources is much further underway.
Necessary action must be taken if the climate crisis is to be overcome. It is crucial that as the UK looks to distinguish itself as a leader in this burgeoning new sector, they do not distract themselves from being leaders elsewhere by taking ambitious and proactive approaches to emissions.
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