Fracking and CCS hit the spotlight as MPs launch inquiry into Brexit implications

The Environment and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) of MPs has launched an inquiry to explore the implications for UK climate policy of leaving the European Union (EU), amid major concerns over the uncertain futures of shale gas exploration and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The parliamentary committee aims to understand the consequences of Brexit on the UK’s commitments to EU-led climate policies and legislation, in addition to its future interaction with the EU bloc to tackle climate change.

Britain’s departure from the EU has raised concerns over the strength of the UK’s bargaining power in EU environmental legislation. Participation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the EU 2030 emissions target agreed by Member States at the Paris Agreement are now subject to negotiation.

The inquiry will determine which climate policy areas will need to be addressed during the UK’s exit negotiations, and seeks guidance on an appropriate timeline for these developments. Although last week’s Fifth Carbon Budget approval provided the green economy with a much-needed confidence boost over the Government’s future strategy approach, a degree of policy uncertainty remains in areas such low-carbon heat and CCS technology.

‘Clear signal’

Climate Change Committee (CCC) chairman Lord Deben, who spoke at an Aldersgate Group event yesterday to discusses business prospects in a post-Brexit UK, has stressed that CCS is of “critical importance” to meet the UK’s carbon targets at minimal costs and to fulfil the ambition of the Paris Agreement.

In a letter to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Secretary yesterday, Deben reiterated that a new approach for the technology is urgently required following cancellation of funding for the CCS Competition last November.

The CCC chairman wrote to Amber Rudd: “Last week you agreed to set the fifth carbon budget at the level we recommended, which I commend. It is an important milestone for investors, businesses and the country more widely. Our advice on the Fifth Carbon Budget strongly emphasised the need for CCS, as did our annual Progress Report that was laid before Parliament last week. We identified CCS as an important area requiring a new approach.

“A strategy should be developed immediately, beginning with a clear signal of renewed commitment to a CCS industry in the UK. A review of ownership options and business models should be undertaken (by DECC or the National Infrastructure Commission), with the preferred approach and a new funding model for industry chosen as soon as possible.”

Fracking go-ahead

Meanwhile, the CCC has today given a cautious green light to fracking in the UK, after advising DECC on the implications of exploitation of onshore petroleum, including shale gas, for meeting UK carbon budgets. A newly released CCC report states that fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with the UK’s climate change targets unless three key tests are met – on methane leaks, gas consumption and carbon budgets.

UK shale gas exploitation has faced strong opposition from politicians and green groups over its potential risks to local communities and the environment. Just today, Friends of the Earth (FoE) applied to the High Court for a judicial review of North Yorkshire County Council’s decision to allow fracking near the North Yorks Moors National Park.

Commenting on today’s report, Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: “The idea that fracking can be squared with the UK’s climate targets is based on a tower of assumptions, caveats, and conditions on which there is zero certainty of delivery. We know that the Government is resisting putting in place policy and regulations needed so that fracking can pass the three climate tests that the Climate Committee is recommending.

“The problem with ramping up a whole new high-carbon infrastructure and the fossil fuel vested interests to go with it is that you can’t just dial it down later on if emissions start going through the roof. The Government now faces a clear choice between promoting this climate-wrecking industry in the face of strong opposition or honour the Paris climate deal and back clean, home grown, reliable renewable energy and smart technologies instead.”

Key questions

As part of its enquiry the ECC is inviting responses to the following questions: –

  • What role has the UK played within the EU in terms of driving the bloc’s international climate change ambitions?
  • What should be the Government’s priorities on the EU Emissions Trading System when negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU? What would a successful negotiation outcome look like?
  • What are the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU on the both the UK’s and the EU’s COP21 pledges? What will be the UK’s future role within the United Nations climate change processes?
  • What should be the Government’s priorities in deciding which EU-led climate policies and legislation to retain? 

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie