In declaring CCS is likely to play a major role in UK's decarbonisation efforts the Prime Minister draws attention to his failure to deliver progress on carbon capture technology
I've already written extensively on the flaws in David Cameron's performance before the Liaison Committee as part of our live blog, but one final point deserves to be made.
This is the third time the Prime Minister has been quizzed by the Liaison Committee about the UK's longer term decarbonisation plans - the first was in late 2012 and the second in early 2014 - and it is the third time he has refused to be drawn on decarbonisation targets for the 2020s on the grounds we need to wait and see if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can prove effective first.
This argument has always had its flaws in so much as it embraces the risk of the UK locking in new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as fracking projects and North Sea oil and gas expansion, that will make it extremely difficult to meet legally binding emissions targets if CCS proves to be a crock (or just very expensive). But it could also be argued that it just about held water, in so much as you wouldn't want to block fossil fuel investment now in the event CCS proves a cost effective form of clean energy, which it one day might.
The problem for Cameron is that his position begs a follow up question: if CCS is so important, what progress have you made on delivering CCS in the UK? The answer, sadly, is very little.
The CCS-reliant argument Cameron presented in the middle of the parliament looks a lot weaker towards the end of a parliament when his government is still yet to award a contract for a $1bn CCS demonstration project, has seen a number of projects fall by the wayside, and has singularly failed to offer the sector the political love, attention, and tax breaks showered upon the similarly nascent fracking industry. The CCS industry has been waiting for more than five years to get off the ground (plans were already underway during the last government), it has complained over and over again it needs more support and a clearer long term policy framework for after the initial demonstration project gets built, and it has shown internationally that projects can and do work. And still it waits.
We are left facing a choice, either Cameron is being economical with the actualite when he says he is serious about tackling climate change or he is being incompetent in his failure to deliver greater progress on a technology he regards as critical to climate action. I'm not sure which is worse. Either way he is being reckless in his insistence that wider long term decarbonisation plans cannot be finalised until he is satisfied about the efficacy of CCS.
The reality is that Cameron's triangulation on the issue of longer term carbon targets looks ever more like a cynical attempt to mobilise ever more fossil fuel investment while nominally staying true to the Conservative's stated green goals - an attempt that is working judging by recent figures showing the extent to which high carbon project have started to dominate the UK infrastructure pipeline. If the Prime Minister had strained every sinew to get CCS online then he would deserve the benefit of the doubt, but he hasn't, so he doesn't.
Instead, by crossing its fingers and hoping for the best on CCS the Conservatives have been able to justify watering down the energy efficiency efforts and denigrating the onshore wind and solar farm development that we know works as a means of cutting carbon emissions in an increasingly cost effective manner.
Yesterday's bad-mouthing wind farms for narrow political purposes and the failure to offer adequate assurances about fracking impacts were bad, but the contradictions at the heart of what passes for Cameron's post-2020 decarbonisation strategy were even worse.
The problem for Cameron is his current stance cannot hold indefinitely. If he forms the next government one of his tasks next year will be to consider the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation for the fifth carbon budget that runs through to 2032. By then he will be hoping a CCS project will finally be underway and he will be able to point to it and show how the continued expansion of the UK's on and offshore oil and gas industry is compatible with steep cuts in emissions. However, given his government's woeful track record on CCS to date he should not hold his breath. He might end up needing those onshore wind farms that he erroneously thinks most people are fed up with after all.
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