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Capturing carbon emissions and storing it underground could allow polluters to dodge climate action, MPs warn

MPs are questioning the energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng over plans to burn wood pellets and suck the emissions out of the air to help the country meet its climate goals.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee of MPs today warned that technologies that capture carbon dioxide and store it underground could distract from targets to cut emissions and see “heavy emitters dodge their responsibilities”.

Burning wood to create electricity is currently classed as renewable by the UK and EU in the belief that trees grow back. Industry says combining bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) would generate “negative emissions” that could offset pollution elsewhere.

But many scientists fear the bioenergy process does not replace like for like – as large, carbon-rich trees are replaced by small, young trees – or guarantee that the emissions would be recaptured, for example if the woodland suffered a wildfire or disease outbreak.

In a letter the committee, which has been hearing from climate and industry experts, cited concerns about the additional emissions from transporting the woody biomass and about the permanence of storing the carbon under the ground.

“Claims that biomass with carbon capture is carbon negative are questionable”, Conservative MP and committee member Duncan Baker told Sky News.

Unless the “genuine negative emissions” of BECCS can be proven, we should be “wary of committing taxpayers’ money to support this new industry” when cheaper and greener alternatives already exist, said Mr Baker.

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The industry says the barriers are purely economic rather than technological, and is calling for government support to get plans moving.

A spokesperson for Drax, the largest bioenergy producer in Britain, said its planned BECCS plant would “remove millions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, playing a pivotal role in supporting the UK’s net zero target”.

The power giant said it sources low-grade materials, including sawmill residues, diseased trees or forest waste for their woody biomass, and does not cause deforestation.

The MPs said in their letter that scaling up BECCS risked increasing the demand for wood and land, with consequences for the climate and biodiversity.

Both the government and its independent climate advisors have set out a role for BECCS and other carbon capture technologies in the country’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions.

The committee also acknowledged the “important role” they could play, for example by offsetting emissions from sectors like steel which are very hard to green.

But the MPs said say current policy lacks direction and clarity, and urged the government to review its approach.

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 8.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

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