Low carbon energies – are the parties doing enough?

April 15, 2010

Jeff ChapmanJeff Chapman is chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association. The opinions expressed are his own.

Political parties publish lengthy manifestos for two reasons: because they want to be seen as credible across a range of policy issues and because they don’t expect people to look into the small print.

So it’s not hard to be unfamiliar with the policy score sheet of each party in any particular area.

But as one of many people in the UK interested in climate change, and even more specifically around carbon capture and storage, I make it my business to know how each party proposes to tackle the challenge.

For those unfamiliar with the term, carbon capture storage is part of a suite of ‘low carbon’ technologies which Governments around the world are developing to decarbonise energy production to tackle climate change.

Its central proposition is simple: through one of 3 chemical processes (pre-combustion, post combustion and oxfuel) carbon dioxide is separated from fossil fuels, captured in liquid form, transported, and buried underground (in the UK under the North Sea seabed) for safe storage.

Why is CCS important?  We generate much of our energy from fossil fuels and CCS captures up to 95 percent of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, preventing it from entering the atmosphere, and helping us meet our crucial climate change targets.

All three political parties are committed to funding CCS at an industrial scale in the UK.  The central difference however, is that whilst Labour and the Conservatives made reference in their manifestos to funding 4 CCS plants (which is a significant commitment at circa 1 billion pounds per plant), the Liberal Democrat manifesto doesn’t specify this.

Each party’s manifesto has taken pains to commit to no new coal power stations without CCS in the future.  Labour suggests they “are the only government in the world to have banned new unabated coal-fired power stations” and the Liberal Democrats have a similar pledge.

The Conservatives have publicly committed to an “Emissions Performance Standard” (as have the Liberal Democrats privately) which means coal fired power stations will not be able to operate unless their production of greenhouse gases is below a certain level – effectively meaning CCS has to be deployed on new coal generation.

There is some debate about whether such measures will work, or whether they will disincentivise industry investment into developing CCS, increasing dependence on gas fired power stations instead.  That debate will rumble on.

The parties would like to see a beefed up EU Emissions Trading Scheme – a pan-European cap and trade scheme for carbon emissions – with the Liberal Democrats committing to introduce a tighter cap on the level of permits within the scheme and the Conservatives suggesting privately they would want to see a floor price in the price of carbon within the scheme.  However there could be difficulties delivering these pledges.

What each of the parties missed, in my view, is the right scale of ambition around CCS.  The government’s own figures suggest a UK CCS industry will support 100,000 jobs and generate 6.5 billion pounds for the economy.

But this can only happen if we realise the full application of CCS, not just on coal generation, but to decarbonise gas generation, heavy industry including steel and cement and, in the future taking carbon directly out of the atmosphere through CCS with biomass.

Our view: political consensus on the importance of deploying CCS is welcome; the next step will be quickly putting major actions into the words when in government.


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A spokesperson from Alstom has stated that the CCS industry cannot accept open-ended liability: it is unable to get full insurance in the market place for its risks, and thus would depend on the public sector to underwrite its liability – an open-ended subsidy. Just like nuclear.

So no wonder the Lib-Dems are being cagey on it, and the Greens don’t support it. It seems a shame that both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to picking losers, given that we have enough safe, clean renewable resources to meet all our energy needs.

Posted by Andrew Smith | Report as abusive

No matter how much energy we save or how many windmills or nuclear plants we build if we burn fossil fuel we need to capture the carbon dioxide to stop global warming. Latest estimates suggest the oceans will absorb only 6% of today’s emissions when atmospheric concentration stops rising.
http://jemsavestheplanet.blogspot.com/20 10/01/more-on-global-warming.html

The world has spent twelve years since Kyoto was adopted failing to reduce CO2 emissions. It was agreed at Copenhagen that global warming should be limited to 2C but we are further than ever from agreeing how to share the massive implied emission reductions between nations. Our leaders need to consider an alternative to caps or taxes with an open mind instead of going round the same unproductive loop over and over again.

I think the Carbon Capture and Storage Association would agree that it is not the know-how that is lacking for CCS but the economic incentive to apply it. As well as promoting CCS they should be promoting a workable scheme to pay for it.

We should not be expecting government to pay for CCS from general taxation or even from a levy on electricity. All those who create CO2 by burning fossil fuel should be paying for its capture. It is not practical to capture it all today but we could oblige fossil fuel producers to contract for the capture of an increasing proportion of the carbon in the fuel they supply. This cost would be passed on to all fuel users but if capture cost say $75/tonne that would equate to only $32/barrel which is modest compared to price movements in recent years.

We are accustomed to paying for services from suppliers in other nations so paying for sequestration around the globe is likely to be acceptable. My proposal requires no share out of emission allowances or carbon tax revenues between nations, only a global emission target and that is already tightly constrained by the agreement at Copenhagen to limit warming to 2C.

When fuel producers are obliged to place contracts for the capture and sequestration of a proportion of the carbon in their fuel, as I propose, I think there will be power companies and others from around the world competing to take their money. I hope we will be left wondering what all the fuss around cutting emissions was about.

See my article for more on why the world will be happy to sign up to my plan.
http://www.ngoilgas.com/article/sorting- climate-change

and my website at
for more detail and supporting information.

Posted by Jem Cooper | Report as abusive

As Piers Corbyn (astrophysicist and genuine climate expert) states in this video http://www.climatejournal.org/video00003 .htm there is no relationship between carbon dioxide and world temperature or climate extremes. This whole man-made global warming theory should be torn up and thrown away, but it will be supported by non-experts such as Al Gore, Rajendra Pachauri and the WWF because there is so much money in it!

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive