“No one has a monopoly on good ideas”

5th Feb 2018

 

You must have heard this phrase, designed to encourage people to help solve problems. It’s certainly true in the fight to decarbonise the UK, in an affordable manner. Common sense suggests a range of options will be needed to help decarbonise heat and transport, two of the trickiest areas for the UK. Now there are fundamentalists on all sides of the debate – climate change deniers on the one hand; the all-electric lobby on the other. Pragmatists, like myself, support the approach of keeping all options open, for as long as possible, and key for the UK is therefore keeping the gas network fully functioning.

That is partly while we examine how to decarbonise the gas we use but there is another reason too. Cost-effective decarbonisation is key; that is the only way the UK population will support the nature of the changes coming their way. When KPMG report that decarbonising heat via an all-electric solution will cost over £300 billion (three times what we spend on the NHS each year) then finding other options becomes an economic as well as environmental priority.

If it is simply not economic to decarbonise heat, or the social costs of fuel poverty are too great if we do, then is it possible to accept some carbon emissions from heat while achieving carbon savings elsewhere?

Arguably yes it is. And it’s not just me saying this. The UK’s Climate Change Committee have also identified this possibility. In their assessment of the Clean Growth Strategy, they identified Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) as a route to explore. It involves removing carbon dioxide from the air, with a range of options and technologies possible. For example, at a simple level it could planting more trees, managing forests and using more wood in the construction of homes. Think about the common sense in this. Using less brick and concrete, highly energy intensive in production, with more wood, locking carbon up for decades, even centuries. Page 43 of their report suggests that the headroom created by GGR could allow “transport and home heating to continue to use a substantial amount of high-carbon fuels”. Not a substitute for action but recognition that there are challenges in affording action.