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Carbon Capture and Storage

Volume 787: debated on Wednesday 20 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when and how they intend to respond to the September 2016 report of the Parliamentary Advisory Group on Carbon Capture and Storage.

My Lords, I am grateful for the report of the Parliamentary Advisory Group on Carbon Capture and Storage, which the noble Lord led. Our response was set out in our Clean Growth Strategy, published in October, and I can only apologise to the noble Lord that we did not write to him to let him know. His report has been and will continue to be a key consideration in shaping our ongoing work.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his apology. It was a little surprising not to have received a reply to a report commissioned at a time of some desperation in the former department of DECC, when the Chancellor pulled the rug from under the department’s energy strategy. The group was set up by Amber Rudd, the then Secretary of State, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who was then the Energy Minister here.

Will the Minister write to me—I will transmit his reply to the rest of the committee—giving an answer to each of the six recommendations that the report contains? That we have not had, and it is not contained within the clean energy strategy. Furthermore, he will recall that the report contained a detailed and carefully worked-out time plan for decarbonisation of the country’s energy system. As things now stand, it looks as though the Government have lost about a year on that fairly prudent plan. Does he agree that this means that the fifth carbon budget will now be something of a stretch? It would be good if he could also place in the Library a copy of a new plan.

My Lords, I repeat the apology I gave to the noble Lord. I will certainly write to him and place a copy of my reply in the Library, with a full response to the six points that he makes in his recommendations—I have a copy of his report here and I have studied it. I also assure him that it remains a priority to work on both zero-growth and low-growth options. My honourable friend Claire Perry is committed to that and we will do all we can. As the noble Lord will be aware, in our industrial strategy we made it quite clear that we saw clean growth as one of the major challenges facing us. It is one of the grand challenges and very much a priority for the department.

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I make the point to the Minister that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, actually shows that carbon capture and storage is affordable. The fact that the Government have ignored that report—and I welcome their statement today—together with the cancellation of the competition, and now the fact that we are perhaps seeing carbon capture and storage by 2030, leads to some doubts about the passion of the Government for this aspect of industry. Will the Minister guarantee that those involved in the clean growth strategy will at an early point in their meetings in the new year look in some detail at how to move this forward? We have already lost competitive advantage to Norway, which is already in this country selling its capability with carbon capture and storage.

The noble Baroness is right to stress the importance of carbon capture. In fact, I visited Imperial College, of which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, was a very distinguished rector in the past, where I understand considerable research is being done into carbon capture. I hope to visit that in due course.

As for the other points that the noble Baroness made, yes, we accept the importance of this, and we will respond—I shall respond in a letter. We will continue to do work on this. As regards the cancellation of the competition in 2015, the noble Baroness will be aware that very difficult decisions had to be made in budgetary terms, which was why that decision was made at the time—and that is what we said at the time.

My Lords, obviously, everyone is agreeing that carbon capture and storage is absolutely vital to an emissions reduction programme, but the certainty that business had and its faith in the Government was shot to pieces by the removal of the manifesto pledge for the £1 billion and its replacement with £100 million. What will the Government do to restore confidence and certainty to green finance and green business, which is vital to the future of our economy?

My Lords, I have dealt already with that change in 2015 about the removal of the £1 billion. The clean growth strategy sets out—and I make this point to the noble Baroness—that there will be further investment now as a result of the clean growth strategy. Some £2.5 billion is being invested by the Government to support low-carbon innovation between now and 2021. As well as that investment from the Government, as I said, there is considerable other investment, both in academe and in industry, to look at other possibilities.

Further to the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on the work of his committee, would not it make more sense to give a priority to investment in clean coal through carbon capture and storage, supercritical boilers and other means of reducing carbon, rather than reinforcing and subsidising the burning of wood pellets, which is going on now, which means tearing down the world’s forests and generating quite a lot of additional carbon?

Well, my Lords, we are where we are. I rather agree with my noble friend about the importance of zero-carbon options, and that is why we want to look at carbon capture and storage. But we should look not only at zero-carbon options but also at low-carbon options.

My Lords, the clean growth strategy will still keep the UK on track to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, whom I congratulate on his drive to take this technology forward, went into detail on how CCS could help to achieve these budgets. As for the energy-intensive industries, would the Minister agree that CCS would be a better value answer to these polluting industries than merely giving them dispensation from paying for climate control measures that every other industry has to adhere to?

My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Lord says about us missing the fourth and fifth targets. We will do what we can to meet them; it will be difficult, but that is why we made it quite clear in the industrial strategy and the clean growth strategy why we want to invest in this area.