2.6 Contradictory carbon reduction policies: coal

A similar issue leading to considerable opposition from environmental groups is the UK Government's continuing support for new coal-fired power stations alongside a lack of large-scale support for alternative/renewable sources of energy.

Again asked to report, the CCC noted that coal is the most carbon-intensive method of UK power generation and, therefore, they made a key recommendation to close coal plants that don't capture and bury their emissions by the early 2020s at the latest. To do this, a carbon capture and storage (CCS) capability would need to be fitted to all coal-fired plants. However, even according to E.On (the company that wished to build the controversial Kingsnorth coal-fired station), CCS is a ‘developing technology’ with ‘technical risk’ while the IPCC does not expect CCS to be commercially viable for decades – too late to help avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change – and major issues of storage safety and energy efficiency would need to be overcome (currently CCS uses a large part of the energy output of its host power plant). However, the world's first CCS test plant has been opened in Germany.

In April 2009, Ed Miliband announced new regulations for coal plants and the launch of a consultation on coal policy, which environmental groups welcome as a starting point. A key part of the announcement was the requirement by power companies to capture and bury all the CO2 emissions from new coal plants by 2025 at the latest if the Environment Agency (EA) states that CCS works – a major departure from previous policies. However, the effectiveness of the new policy is dependent on some unanswered questions:

  • Will new coal plants be allowed to operate for a decade with 75% of their emissions entering the atmosphere?

  • How will the Government ensure that, if CCS doesn't work, the UK won't be left with a legacy of new coal plants emitting large amounts of CO2 at a time when we must be slashing emissions?

  • Will existing coal plants be allowed to operate unabated despite their large CO2 emissions?

As a further example, a UN meeting using information from a UK-based survey found a low level of awareness, and trust, of CCS, with renewables strongly favoured over other energy sources, including CCS-enabled coal. Though based on less expert knowledge, this echoed the meeting's conclusion that CCS doesn't help with the urgent need to cut emissions and provide access to clean energy.

Activity 8

Though technically feasible, if CCS is to genuinely help reduce carbon emissions, it needs to be implemented widely and quickly. From the sources of evidence you can find, do you believe that this will be the case? If not, why do you feel that some politicians are promoting it?

2.5 Contradictory carbon reduction policies: the case of aviation

2.7 UK emissions targets