EXPERTS have warned the Scottish Government’s strategy for hitting ambitious climate targets by 2030 is based on “wishful thinking” amid fears there is no plan B in the event untested technology cannot be scaled up.
Scottish Government ministers have published their climate change update after MSPs pledged to reduce 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 on the way to becoming carbon neutral by 2045.
But experts have raised concerns that using carbon capture and storage (CCS) and negative emissions technology (NET) to decarbonise heavy industry such as the oil and gas sector are not based on evidence it can be done in time.
Warning over reliance on carbon capture and storage for climate targets
Dr Rachel Howell, lecturer in sociology and sustainable development at Edinburgh University, told Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that she was “very, very concerned about the reliance on negative emissions technologies”.
She added: “The justification that’s given for this is that we know this is important because of detailed modelling – that isn’t evidence that it is going to be possible to meet the targets for negative emissions technologies by the dates set.
“That looks to me as if scenarios have been examined and there has been concern about the fact that the plans and policies for actually reducing emissions through other kinds of technologies and behaviour change don’t meet the necessary targets – so people have said ‘right’s we’re going to need NET’.”
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Dr Howell called on MSPs to “press the Scottish Government on its evidence that it will actually be possible to roll out NETs at scale”, stressing that there is “no capacity in the UK at all at the moment” for CCS technology.
She added: “I would suggest that we need a plan which goes for the targets with proven technologies, with behaviour change. If the Scottish Government want to add in views on which policies will not be necessary if NETs come on stream, then fair enough.
“At the very, very least, they must include in this updated plan – a plan B for what happens if NETs don’t prove to be able to do what they want them to do.”
Scottish Greens co-leader, Patrick Harvie, asked whether the SNP was “putting too many eggs into a basket that does not exist yet” by relying on the strategy.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie
He added: “The plan, apparently, is that in less than a decade, we will get from zero to a very substantial level of operation of negative emission technologies and it will continue to grow dramatically there on for the next subsequent decades.
“Is there a danger that rather than defeatism and assuming that it can’t happen, we’re actually being too optimistic in assuming that it absolutely will happen?”
Climate change scientist Dave Reay, the executive director at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, said that the technology will be required, but warned that the strategy is “really optimistic to see that kind of scale of NETs operating in our economy, particularly in a way which doesn’t have really large negative consequences”.
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He added: “There’s got to be a plan B with this.
“There’s so much hope and optimism in it and that’s good to have but you need to have the realism of if these things don’t all work perfectly, then how do we meet our commitments. That’s where a plan B is required.”
But Tom Shields from the Just Transition Commission, told MSPs that “the hard fact we have to face is there isn’t a plan B”.
Mr Shields, who is a director of Neccus, which is producing a Scottish carbon capture project, added: “If we don’t get some of these technologies in place and working to the level we hope they will work then we probably won’t meet the demanding targets that we’ve got.
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“Scotland does have a unique opportunity here. It is uniquely connected to very large bridges that could be used for carbon dioxide in the North Sea – it is actually connected with equipment and infrastructure and it has all of the expertise coming out of the oil and gas industry.
“That provides us with a new industry to redeploy the people and to employ high quality jobs in that industry sector.”
Mr Sheilds added that the strategy “is a credible plan albeit, a very ambitious one”.
He added: “The technology is proven – there are more than 20 places around the world where carbon capture and storage is happening – it’s happening in the North Sea with the Norwegian project.
“Every part of that technology has been proven – the challenge is with financing it because it is incredibly expensive and there is risk associated with it.
“We did create a new industry if offshore wind in the North Sea and it’s credible that we can do it in this way as well.”
A Scottish Government Spokesperson said: It is clear that carbon capture, utilisation and storage will play an important role in helping us to reach net-zero emissions. Indeed, advice from the Committee on Climate Change describes it as a ‘necessity, not an option’.
“We support the development of CCUS infrastructure which will have the flexibility to adapt over time to play a central role across the decarbonisation strategies of key sectors such as heat, industry and power.
“In developing this plan, we have sought expert advice and engagement from key stakeholders and will continue to do so.”