The UK government needs to launch technologies to suck carbon dioxide from the air if it wants to play its part in meeting the goals of the “Paris climate change agreement”, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official advisers.
The global climate deal, which the prime minister, Theresa May, says the UK will ratify by the end of 2016, pledges net zero emissions by the second half of the century, in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Given that some emissions, such as those from aviation and agriculture, will be very difficult to reduce to zero, that means removing some carbon from the atmosphere.
Planting trees is the simplest solution but is limited by the land available, meaning more radical technologies need to be developed, such as chemically scrubbing CO2 from the air and burying it. “A strategy for deployment [of new carbon-removal technologies] at scale by 2050 should start now given the timescales inherent in bringing new technologies to market,” says a new CCC report.
“The UK, in cooperation with other countries around the world, needs to come up with a bigger and more concerted effort around those greenhouse gas removal technologies if the ambition of Paris is to be met,” said Matthew Bell, the CCC’s chief executive. But the CCC report says aviation and agriculture must also be tackled by “substantial biofuel use in aircraft and reduced red consumption”.
Another CCC report published on Thursday says the UK must act urgently to cut emissions from the heating of homes and other buildings, which are largely reliant on gas and cause 20% of the nation’s carbon emissions. UK emissions have fallen 38% since 1990, but virtually all of this drop is from greener electricity.
Lord Deben, the CCC’s chairman, said a “step change” was needed in how the UK heats its homes, a problem that threatens the UK’s ability to meet its carbon targets. The CCC said the government must focus on the rollout of heat pumps and low-carbon district heating systems and the testing of hydrogen as a clean-burning replacement for natural gas.