The UK government must commit to the wide-scale use of new greenhouse gas removal technology by 2030 to meet its climate change obligations, a report by the National Infrastructure Commission says.
The report sets out how introducing technology to remove and store carbon dioxide is the most realistic way to mitigate emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources such as aviation and agriculture.
Removal methods explored by the commission are extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air, and bioenergy with carbon capture technology.
In both cases the captured carbon dioxide is stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
“To get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now, " said Sir John Armitt, chairman of the commission.
"The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners.
"We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary technology."
The commission said the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors such as road transport or power, where carbon removal would be more expensive.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means the government must rapidly introduce them so they become viable by the 2030s.
The report says early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technology could create a advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to buy the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The commission’s analysis suggests engineered removal technologies must be able to remove between five and 10 megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
With costs ranging between £100 million ($139m) and £400m for each megatonne of carbon dioxide removed, this market could see revenues reach £2bn a year by 2030.
These costs could be covered by industries being required to pay for removal or sharing the expense with the government.
But the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals needed to reach carbon targets.
It acknowledges that polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs on to consumers.
While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report says that the government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in those industries the costs should fall.