New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has promised to do just that suspend green fees on energy bills and look for ‘better ways to deliver our net zero goals.” Despite record heatwaves, as well as bushfires, droughts and floods around the world, none of the Conservative leadership contenders felt as eager as David Cameron once did. hug a husky during the summer leadership campaign.
In her welcome speech, Truss made it clear that her top priority is “working with people electricity billsbut also solving the long-term problems that we have energy supply.” A lot to read it’s like a green light to license new oil and gas production and possibly end the moratorium on fracking.
But as a former foreign secretary, Truss should also know how flood victims in Pakistan will respond to Global Britain abandoning its climate change commitments less than a year after persuading the world to sign the Glasgow Climate Pact.
Can the Truss maintain the UK’s reputation as a climate leader and its target of zero carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions by 2050 by appointing business secretary who wants to get “to the last drop” oil from the North Sea? As the physicist who helped define the need for net zero in the first place, I suspect that the only way to do this would be to package these initiatives into an even bolder climate policy: making the UK the first country in the world to commit to geological net zerolinking the future extraction and import of fossil fuels to the ongoing disposal of the CO₂ they generate.
A target written in stone
Achieving geological net zero funds returning one metric ton of CO₂ to crustal storage for every ton produced by long-term combustion fossil fuel. This is a much more robust target than a single net zero, because it leaves much less room for creative accounting of how much forests and other natural carbon sinks can absorb. And that’s the bare minimum that a wealthy, historically high-emission country like the UK should adhere to.
It is important to note that the road to geological zero does not need to be paved with subsidies. Taxpayers’ money is not needed at all. What is needed is a licensing requirement for any firm that extracts or imports fossil fuels into the UK to permanently remove the growing proportion of CO₂ produced by the products they sell, either by capturing it from their customers or by extracting it from the atmosphere, with this the proportion will rise to 100% by 2050. As most of this carbon is likely to be re-injected into the North Sea, many jobs will be created in the north-east of England, where the government has already promised investmentpaid by companies like BP whose boss recently admitted not knowing what to do with their windfalls.
The fossil fuel industry will insist that any such idea will make fossil fuels much, much more expensive – the last thing that is needed right now. But let’s think about that claim for a moment. Their most expensive option, capturing CO₂ from the air to offset every single molecule produced by the products they sell, which they only need to achieve by 2050, would add less than 5p/kWh to the cost of supplying natural gas and less than 60 pence to the cost of producing a liter of petrol. Such technologies as direct air intake cost approx £200 to absorb a tonne of CO₂ today, and the industry will have 30 years to reduce the cost further.
That’s additional manufacturing costs phased in over three decades, which is less than their average growth in wholesale profits since early 2022. Will these companies be able to pass it all on to consumers on top of today’s prices? Or will competition from renewables mean they actually have to absorb some or all of those costs themselves? The only time the idea of a carbon refunding obligations approached the laws of Great Britain, back in 2015this was fiercely opposed by the lobby group Oil and Gas UK, who say what they really think (I know because a lobbyist in a nice suit took me out for coffee and spent a good hour explaining to me what a terrible idea it was).
Once the sharp opposition is overcome, the next challenge will be to confront fossil fuel companies that propose investing in wind farms instead of CO₂ disposal. Companies can invest in renewable energy if they want, but those investments are no substitute for the fact that the products they sell cannot cause global warming by keeping CO₂ out of the atmosphere. The alternative makes as much sense as a water company promoting its investment in water-absorbing peatlands as an excuse for dumping sewage on the beaches.
Countries are racing to diversify their fossil resources fuel supplies right now and producers are asking for new mining licenses. Banning all new mining doesn’t help if it just increases our future dependence on Russia and Saudi Arabia. But how can the UK license more oil and gas without recording more emissions? The answer is simple: make the UK’s continued production or import of fossil fuels dependent on permanent CO₂ disposal, starting now and reaching 100% by 2050. And then calling on the country’s trading partners to do the same.
Demand that the world’s most profitable industry break even.
Citation: Can Liz Truss allow new oil and gas drilling and still strengthen Britain’s zero rate? (2022, September 7) Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-liz-truss-drilling-oil-gas.html
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