Rebecca Bell, SCCS Policy and Research Officer
I’ve been working for Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage for just under three weeks, and it feels like I joined at just the right time – every day there seems to be a new report confirming that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a vital part of our low-carbon future, and something we need to be investing in now.
Four days before I started, the UK Government launched its Clean Growth Strategy, dedicating three pages to carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and expressing an ambition to deploy CCUS at scale in the UK. Although there are concerns that the strategy might need a bit more urgency and the funding to give CCS the jump-start it needs, it’s a huge step change from the government policy of recent years, which pulled the funding for two CCS projects in Peterhead and North Yorkshire in 2015 and almost condemned CCS in the UK to the wilderness.
A week after the launch of the Clean Growth Strategy, in a debate in the House of Commons, the Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Claire Perry, expressed a personal commitment to CCUS, describing it as "exceptionally important", giving hope to those of us who know that big changes are more likely to happen if they have a champion. In the same debate, it was heartening to hear MPs from across the political spectrum, and from the length and breadth of the country, expressing their support for CCS. It’s a rare day when the parties can all agree on something, and this debate showed the groundswell of opinion in favour of CCS.
The signs were already good for Scotland: the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan, released in draft earlier this year, wants CCS to deliver the emissions reductions it needs at the lowest cost. In the Programme for Scotland, the Scottish Government says that it wants to provide leadership on CCS and is committed to securing investment for it: both by providing funding support for the Acorn Project in north east Scotland, and using its influence on the UK Government to try to get the policy and financial framework in place.
Earlier this week, Crown Estate Scotland released their three-year corporate plan: they hold the rights to the seabed, below which carbon dioxide can be stored in depleted oil and gas fields. As such, their attitude towards CCS is crucial – so we were really pleased to see them offering support to the CCS opportunity in Scotland with a view to establishing carbon storage in the North Sea.
And then yesterday, the Industrial Strategy Commission reflected much of what SCCS has been thinking: that we need a carbon price that reflects the social and environmental damage caused by greenhouse gases (which would help make the economics of CCS stack up); that we need an end to short-term thinking when it comes to infrastructure; and, most importantly, that the government needs to commit to invest in the infrastructure that CCS relies on, and provide financial incentives to make it viable.
It feels like there’s a critical mass of opinion building around the need for CCS, and that commentators and policy makers are beginning to converge around what it will take to make it happen. But we need to put the effort in now to create the environment to support CCS: that includes things like making sure we act quickly and effectively to keep certain oil and gas pipelines in place so they can be reused when the time comes.
There’s a lot of work to do to move from knowing what is needed to actually having CCS as a core part of our economy, but for the first time in a long time it feels like the door is opening, and that we just need to push.