UK must seize the opportunity to become a world leader in carbon capture and storage
With the threat of climate change growing ever closer, the government is making significant investments in developing solutions which have the potential to save our warming planet.
All over the world, countries are turning towards innovative solutions to avert this looming threat – one of which is carbon capture and storage (CCUS) which captures and stores harmful CO₂ emissions before they can reach the atmosphere.
It is high time that emitting industries find ways to reduce their reliance on carbon but they cannot turn their carbon emissions off overnight – this would have a devastating impact on UK industrial production and impact thousands of jobs across the country. These industries which are the backbone of Britain need long-term support to tackle their emissions and a decarbonisation solution – which is why CCUS is so essential. For this reason, I was pleased to see the government commit £20bn to CCUS development earlier this year.
A competitive process must take place to future-proof CCUS in the UK
But in the government’s rush to deploy CCUS at pace to meet net zero, I am concerned that it has already declared frontrunners in this race – rather than making it the open and competitive process it should be for this significant sum of money. Indeed, in its Powering Up Britain Strategy, published in March, the government confirmed two clusters, one in the Humber and one in Scotland, as top contenders. However, this left all the other businesses developing CCUS plans to scramble to submit an “expression of interest '' before the end of April to even be considered in a competitive process.
With £20bn of public money at play, the government must do all it can to ensure that all areas of the UK get a fair chance to enter into a competitive process – otherwise it is doing a disservice to the communities who could benefit most from this investment.
To declare a particular interest, my constituency of Barrow and Furness could benefit from exactly this – Spirit Energy is proposing a CCUS cluster in the depleted Morecambe Bay gas fields. The MNZ Cluster would see one gigaton of carbon stored under the seabed – this is the equivalent of three years’ worth of the UK’s CO₂ emissions, or eight years' worth of emissions from the manufacturing sector. My constituents and others living in the North West have the potential to benefit from Barrow becoming a centre of low-carbon innovation, securing the jobs of those working on the gas fields and creating thousands more, while attracting unprecedented private sector investment to the community as businesses funnel money into net zero solutions.
But this issue stems deeper than Barrow. A competitive CCUS process is vital to ensure that the British public are receiving the best value for money from the government’s significant investment – with £20bn up for grabs, the UK deserves a more in-depth and analytical process than simply picking two main contenders.
A fair process must focus on capacity . The government has to be sure it is choosing clusters which offer the greatest possible storage capacity for the UK’s industrial sector. Decarbonisation cannot simply happen overnight, and we need a significant storage capacity for decades to come to act as a buffer while these heavy industries work to reduce their emissions.
There also has to be a view to the emitters that each cluster can support, and the net benefit for the economy. Some sectors, for example the cement and lime industry, will find it almost impossible to reduce CO₂ emissions. The government must take into consideration which clusters can serve those industries facing the biggest challenges to support decarbonisation in the most effective way.
Finally, the government also has to have an eye to the future. The UK could be a world-leader in this sector: we are blessed with geological formations which could be repurposed for carbon storage. If the UK grasps this opportunity now it could become a global CCUS destination, accepting carbon not just from UK-based emitters, but from across Europe, while becoming a hub for CCUS learning and development. Selected clusters must be future-proofed, therefore, and able to accept carbon through other methods like shipping, rather than just via gas pipeline.
As representatives of the communities that elected us, MPs have a duty to ensure that taxpayer money is being used responsibly. With such vast sums of money available we cannot afford for this process to be uncompetitive. The clusters selected by the government will have an environmental impact for generations to come, and could transform local communities bringing green jobs, growth and investment.
For such a major financial and environmental decision there is no other option: a competitive process must take place to future-proof CCUS in the UK.
Simon Fell, Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness
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