Emission Impossible by Laughlan Steer
April 30, 2019 | Silver Shemmings
It should not be news that burning fossil fuels to produce energy releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This increase in CO2 exceeds the tolerances of the natural carbon cycle and contributes to what is known as the greenhouse effect.
What might be more surprising though, is the target set by the Paris Agreement in 2015 to reduce global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. Without further drastic action, experts predict the world is on track to hit 3 degrees within 80 years and there can be little doubt that this would have catastrophic consequences. One of the gravest of these consequences would be rising sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice caps. It is estimated that 80% of people living in Asia would be affected in some way by this geological disaster. The Thwaites Glacier, a patch of frozen water in Antarctica the size of Florida, has already begun to destabilize. Experts have described the potential flood damage caused by the total collapse of the glacier as “incalculable;” it already solely accounts for 4% of the annual global rise in sea levels. This doomsday scenario is potentially avoidable, but only through drastic change.
At the December 2018 Katowice Climate Change Conference, participant nations agreed on the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, which will come into force in 2020. The UK pledged to fund £170m in support of its low carbon industry by 2040, as well as an increase of £100m to the existing funding of renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Notable corporate commitments included Maersk agreeing to eliminate its carbon impact by 2050 and Shell promising to link carbon targets to executive pay from 2020. This is all very positive, but is it enough?
A substantial hindrance to reducing our carbon footprint is the reliance upon conventional fossil-fuel power generation for the supply of electricity in Europe. However, the process of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has the potential to remove up to 90 per cent of the carbon emissions arising out of conventional power generation and therefore represents a significant step forward in the battle to reduce emissions.
Difficulties in tackling global warming
There are a number of challenges facing the global drive to reduce emissions.
While CCS projects have been successfully (and indeed profitably) deployed in countries such as Norway and the US, the UK enjoys neither the punitive carbon tax of the former, nor the subterranean oil or gas reservoirs of the latter. In the US, pumping CO2 into these reservoirs not only solves the storage issue, but also allows the collection of other valuable hydrocarbons, the remnants of which are forced out of the earth’s cavities by the CO2.
Cost is always a factor in change, and unlike wind or solar power projects, CCS technologies tend to represent a significant up-front cost, often requiring large-scale installation to be economical.
Another challenge to the wider uptake of renewable energy usage and the reduction of CO2 emissions is industries which are energy intensive, such as metal or cement production.
Another unfortunate reality is countries with substantial coal and oil/gas reserves such as India and China which see these fossil fuels as the cheapest (and therefore best) route to expanding their industry. With ample resource available for exploitation, the reticence of such countries to adopt expensive environmental mitigation measures is understandable, albeit disappointing.
What is clear from the above is that we are some way off achieving our goals in respect of the implementation of CCS technologies in this country.
Both conglomerates and SMEs are however driving innovation in this field (some of our clients included). These novel solutions include the implementation of bioreactors (using plant matter to absorb CO2), and “direct air capture” plants which separate the CO2 from the surrounding air.
There is also more to CCS than merely reducing climate change; the by-products of this activity can include fuels, chemicals and building materials. It is therefore hoped that these additional revenue streams will provide further incentives to participate in this vital activity.
As a firm we are passionate about “green” projects. If you would like to speak to one of our lawyers about the above or a potential project, please contact Laughlan Steer
Author Laughlan Steer is a Solicitor specialising in Construction and Real Estate law, his experience spans non-contentious as well as contentious matters. He has led a number of adjudications and is well-versed in both Part 7 and Part 8 litigation proceedings and Mediation. Having commenced his professional life on the client side of energy and rail projects, Laughlan’ s advice benefits from this insight. He enjoys servicing a diverse client-base, from sub-contractors, to architects and high net worth individuals and he regularly presents seminars and lectures to the public, local authorities, consultancies and construction companies of all sizes
At Silver Shemmings Ash, we provide seminars and training alongside our core activities in contentious and non-contentious matters. The purpose of these is to facilitate a greater knowledge and understanding of construction and property law. There remains a considerable lack of training in such areas for companies and this is an issue which we are looking to address
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