New report shows carbon capture is key to Paris climate targets

A major new report has outlined the steps required to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050, with carbon capture technology a vital component.

The estimated mix of actions required for the UK to reach net-zero emissions bu 2050

Presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society, the report examined various methods of greenhouse gas removal (GGR) alongside their costs and impacts on land use. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are cut dramatically by 2050, it is estimated that 130 megatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to make the UK carbon neutral and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Achieving that target will require a range of measures, including forestation, soil carbon sequestration, building with biomass, and low-carbon concrete. However, the report states that more than half of the CO2 will need to be captured either via BECCS (biomass energy carbon capture and storage) or DACCS (direct air carbon capture and storage). Both technologies are in nascent stages of development and would likely need government support if they were to mature at the necessary rate.

“We must absolutely continue to prioritise rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but we will also have to use these GGR methods to achieve international climate goals, and steward the planet for future generations,” said Gideon Henderson FRS, Professor of Earth Science at the University of Oxford and chair of the report working group.

“If the UK acts now on greenhouse gas removal, we can reach national emissions targets and show how a major industrialised economy can play a leading role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Alongside carbon capture technologies, some of the other relatively unproven methods for GGR include enhanced terrestrial weathering and biochar. The former involves grinding silicate rocks and spreading them across agricultural land, where they react with atmospheric CO2. Meanwhile, biochar sees charcoal-like material incorporated into soil and the carbon content sequestered for up to thousands of years. For the UK to reach a net-zero CO2 scenario by 2050, all of these GGR techniques will need to be applied together, with BECCS and DACCS doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Multiple approaches are required for the UK to hit its climate targets

“No single technology alone can do enough to limit the effects of climate change,” said Professor Nilay Shah FREng, director of the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial College London and member of the report working group.

“The report highlights the portfolio of greenhouse gas removal technologies required in order to make meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement possible. However, delivery of these technologies at the necessary scale will present many challenges. Overcoming these will require a concerted effort from engineers, scientists and governments worldwide. For the goal to remain in our sights action must be taken now.”