UK ‘must invest billions every year’ to meet 2050 net-zero carbon target

Peter Stubley
Cutting emissions to net zero by 2050 will require funding of large-scale greenhouse gas removal projects: PA

The UK will have to invest billions of pounds every year in greenhouse gas removal to meet its climate targets, according to a government-commissioned report.

Cutting emissions to net zero by 2050 without significant technological breakthroughs requires “large-scale investment” in industrial carbon capture and storage, the report states.

It would also involve the conversion of large areas of land into forests, and the planting of trees and shrubs among crops by farmers.

The analysis by consultancy firm Vivid Economics suggests greenhouse gas removal (GGR) projects could be funded by government subsidies or tax credits, the evolution of existing policies, or by passing the costs to the suppliers of fossil fuels and agricultural products.

“GGR at scale will require multiple billions of pounds per annum,” the report adds. “Notably, costs are likely to be of a similar scale to current government spending on renewable energy support. Hence, there is precedent for government climate funding at the required scale.”

However, the report warned that tax credits funded by a carbon levy are likely to benefit large corporations while disproportionately affecting low-income households through increased electricity prices.

Government subsidies could rise from around £2bn in 2030 to between £6bn and £20bn a year by 2050, but would be “possibly more effective in quickly establishing GGR deployment at scale, particularly in the short to medium term”.

A third option would involve requiring companies to buy “negative emission certificates” to compensate for a percentage of their emissions.

While this would ensure the polluter pays the costs, it could also cause rises in fuel prices, the report warns.

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The report argues that GGR is necessary because of the difficulty in reducing emissions from the “hard to treat” sectors of aviation, farming and heavy industry.

“Even if emissions are reduced aggressively across the economy, the UK is expected to continue to emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases annually,” it says. “This is primarily because some economic processes, which are key to our way of life, are very difficult to decarbonise with current technologies.”

The report suggests a large proportion of UK farmers may have to adopt agroforestry – growing trees and shrubs among crops – and “enhanced weathering”, which removes carbon dioxide by spreading crushed minerals over the land

However, the main method of carbon dioxide removal is expected to involve bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and direct air carbon capture and storage.

The report adds: “The rate of roll-out will need to be rapid, particularly in the 2030s and 2040s, and will require significant policy support.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said they would “look closely” at the report’s findings.

The government’s commitment to end Britain’s contribution to global warming was announced in June by Theresa May.

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