Environmental Audit Committee puts the vital, hard questions to BEIS Minister, on future dreams of carbon storage

The UK government, the Committee on Climate Change, and industries such as aviation are hoping (against hope) that carbon can continue to be emitted, in amounts only a bit lower than now, and wonderful technologies in future will take carbon out of the atmosphere, and save us all.  Now the Commons Environmental Audit Committee – which has a vital role in trying to hold government to account on environmental issues – has written to the BEIS minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, setting out a list of issues with future “Negative Emissions Technologies” (NETs) and engineered greenhouse gas removals. They ask a long list of important, necessary questions.  Some of the key issues are whether misguided hopes of the efficacy of these will just allow industries to continue with “business-as-usual” emissions, rather than making the steep, rapid cuts needed. They ask how government will measure and monitor the NETs; how they will assess their effectiveness; how much harm would be done to global biodiversity by growing vast areas of crops, in order to burn them (and capture the CO2). They ask if the carbon storage will be permanent, or if the government will allow captured carbon to be used by industry, especially for enhanced oil and gas recovery. And much more.

Capturing carbon emissions and storing it underground could allow polluters to dodge climate action, MPs warn

Carbon capture technologies could allow polluters to shirk responsibilities to slash their emissions, according to the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee.

By Victoria Seabrook, Climate reporter @SeabrookClimate (Sky)

29 March 2022

MPs are questioning the energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng over plans to burn wood pellets and suck the emissions out of the air to help the country meet its climate goals.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee of MPs today warned that technologies that capture carbon dioxide and store it underground could distract from targets to cut emissions and see “heavy emitters dodge their responsibilities”.

Burning wood to create electricity is currently classed as renewable by the UK and EU in the belief that trees grow back. Industry says combining bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) would generate “negative emissions” that could offset pollution elsewhere.

But many scientists fear the bioenergy process does not replace like for like – as large, carbon-rich trees are replaced by small, young trees – or guarantee that the emissions would be recaptured, for example if the woodland suffered a wildfire or disease outbreak. [Or just future drought etc and do not grow well].

In a letter the committee, which has been hearing from climate and industry experts, cited concerns about the additional emissions from transporting the woody biomass and about the permanence of storing the carbon under the ground.

“Claims that biomass with carbon capture is carbon negative are questionable”, Conservative MP and committee member Duncan Baker told Sky News.

Unless the “genuine negative emissions” of BECCS can be proven, we should be “wary of committing taxpayers’ money to support this new industry” when cheaper and greener alternatives already exist, said Mr Baker.

Drax plans to burn “biomass” to generate renewable energy, and store the emissions under the North Sea.

The UK’s quest for net zero: Can carbon capture finally fulfil its promise?

The industry says the barriers are purely economic rather than technological, and is calling for government support to get plans moving.

A spokesperson for Drax, the largest bioenergy producer in Britain, said its planned BECCS plant would “remove millions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, playing a pivotal role in supporting the UK’s net zero target”.

The power giant said it sources low-grade materials, including sawmill residues, diseased trees or forest waste for their woody biomass, and does not cause deforestation. [That is very questionable. Wood is obtained from the SE United States, involving cutting whole trees. Drax’s claims are deeply dodge.  See https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/19/drax-dropped-from-index-of-green-energy-firms-amid-biomass-doubts

The MPs said in their letter that scaling up BECCS risked increasing the demand for wood and land, with consequences for the climate and biodiversity.

Both the government and its independent climate advisors have set out a role for BECCS and other carbon capture technologies in the country’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions.

The committee also acknowledged the “important role” they could play, for example by offsetting emissions from sectors like steel which are very hard to green.

But the MPs said say current policy lacks direction and clarity, and urged the government to review its approach.



The excellent letter from the Environmental  Audit Committee

to Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP. Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  (BEIS) can be read here:


In it they raise a lot of questions, including;

  • whether targets for the tonnage of carbon to be (in theory) removed from the atmosphere should be kept entirely separate from carbon emissions targets.  The removal of carbon in future should not be presumed, allowing for less ambitious carbon reduction targets
  • bearing in mind how BECCS and DACS are nascent technologies, with no proof of being effective in the long term, why the Government considers it appropriate to rely on these NETs  (Negative Emissions Technologies) as a principal element of the net zero pathway;
  • they ask the Government how it will monitor the effectiveness of NETs, and also indicate what (if any) safeguards or alternatives it envisages to reach net
    zero if NETs do not deliver the anticipated outcomes
  • they ask what the Government’s strategy for public engagement will be, over the role of engineered NETs in reaching net zero, and how it is intended to mitigate any public concern around the use of NETs;
  • what assurances the Government has in place to ensure that captured CO2
    will be stored securely, safely and permanently at proposed UK offshore sites, and
    explain how these assurances will be reviewed as monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) procedures for NETs are developed and implemented;
  • what is the Government’s policy on the current and future sourcing of biomass
    for use in BECCS, how sustainable it is over its lifecycle, and how it is compatible with overall policy objectives on domestic and global biodiversity and carbon neutrality;
  • they ask whether the Government supports the reuse in other applications of CO2 removed by NETs;
  • and what evidence the Government is relying on in its assessment of the permanence of recovered CO2, and
  • whether the Government supports the use of NETs in enhanced oil recovery, and recovered CO2 used in such applications therefore returning to the atmosphere.

See the whole 7 page letter at