Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 across the UK is a mammoth task. As we battle to reach this target, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no silver bullet, and that we will need a range of decarbonisation approaches in our arsenal. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a particularly innovative approach. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2), transporting it to a final storage point, and storing it underground. This way the CO2 is not released into the atmosphere, and does not contribute to global warming.
CCS, like any decarbonisation approach, faces unique barriers to adoption. We were recently commissioned by Policy@Manchester to interview 18 organisations across the CCS supply chain to uncover these barriers and suggest policies to address them. Speaking to energy companies, infrastructure providers, stakeholder groups, and businesses across various high-emitting sectors allowed us to uncover where the pinch points are and formulate ideas for a way forward.
The findings, outlined in our report, were illuminating. Ultimately, whilst interviewees felt that CCS technology is mostly proven, they raised a number of reasons why we haven’t been able to scale up adoption to the level required.
Limited transport and storage infrastructure holds us back, whether it be a lack of capacity to ship carbon rather than just move it by pipeline, or a lack of storage sites in the UK to enable carbon to be stored in the sub-surface. CCS is also costly for businesses to use, and a lack of vital skills in the economy is slowing adoption.
There was a perception that the government doesn’t take CCS seriously enough, resulting in insufficient funding, as well as a lack of agility in the delivery of important projects. Ultimately this undermines confidence in CCS. Businesses still have uncertainties over the capacity, logistics and policy roadmap of scaling up CCS, whilst the general public can have misconceptions of risks. These uncertainties reduce trust and confidence, stifling investment.
Fortunately, these barriers can be overcome, and there is no more effective tool than government policy. With this in mind, we developed various areas for action with University of Manchester academics:
- Consider legislative and policy changes to stimulate adoption of CCS: mandating net zero in the construction of buildings can ensure that CCS plays a larger role in construction, whilst carbon pricing approaches can reduce the cost burden of adoption to businesses, allowing greater cost pass-on to customers. Streamlined regulatory processes can ensure quicker sign-off for important CCS projects.
- Stimulate stakeholder engagement to mobilise action and change perceptions: greater government and industry engagement with the educational sector can ensure delivery of vital skills, whilst engagement with well-known NGOs can help address misconceptions of CCS amongst the general public. Certain sectors that have low adoption but high need for CCS in order to decarbonise, such as aviation, will need targeted support.
- Improve awareness of the future direction of CCS and review funding levels to stimulate investment: better communication from government can improve awareness of policy timelines within industry, and reviewing current funding levels is essential. These actions can increase confidence in CCS, stimulating investment.
Our report should act as timely reminder that there is still much work to be done to overcome barriers to CCS adoption, but also that government has the power to affect change. Urgent policy action will allow us to grasp the immense potential of CCS.
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