UK could be carbon neutral by 2050 with CO2 removal technology

12th September 2018

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Richard Boothman

The UK could achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by immediately deploying greenhouse gas removal technologies, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society have said.

In a report published today, the academies assess the potential impact of traditional carbon removal methods like forestation, as well as more speculative technologies like direct air capture.

They warn that the UK must continue to rapidly cut emissions, but that the country will still need to remove at least 130 megatonnes of CO2 every year if it is to be carbon neutral in 2050.

Ready to use methods like habitat restoration could provide a quarter of what is needed to achieve this, according to the report, while more advanced approaches like carbon capture and storage could contribute the rest.

“We have to use these methods to achieve international climate goals and steward the planet for future generations,” said professor Gideon Henderson, chair of the report’s working group.

“If the UK acts now on greenhouse gas removal, we can reach national emissions targets and show how a major industrialised economy can play a leading role in meeting the Paris Agreement.

The more traditional methods analysed included forestation, habitat restoration, soil carbon sequestration and building with wood or carbonated waste, with each assessed for readiness, scalability and environmental and social impacts.

Biochar, enhanced terrestrial weathering in agricultural soils, direct air captures and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, were some of the more speculative technologies.

In order to achieve the 2050 target, the researchers concluded that the UK would need to increase forestation to 5% of land, restore wetlands and salt marshes, and store more carbon in farmland.

Policy should also encourage changes in building practice to use wood and cement manufactured from carbon waste, while more research must be carried out into longer-term technologies like enhanced weathering.

“However, delivery of these technologies at the necessary scale will present many challenges,” said member of the report’s working group, professor Nilay Shah, said. “Overcoming these will require a concerted effort from engineers, scientists and governments worldwide.”

Image credit: iStock


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