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Government climate targets give polluters ‘free pass’ to keep emitting carbon

Polluting industries are being encouraged to rely on future greenhouse gas removal technologies rather than reducing emissions now, MPs have warned.

Weak government targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are giving polluters a “free pass” to continue pumping carbon into the atmosphere, MPs have warned today. 

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have said that combining targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with targets to remove them is enabling polluting industries to rely on future carbon removal technologies instead of reducing emissions now.

Committee chair Phillip Dunne MP warned that sectors “averse or unable to cut emissions” are currently being enabled to “dodge their responsibilities” because of the combined target.

The EAC has outlined its concerns in a letter addressed to Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, (BEIS) asking for explanation and clarification around the government’s plans for carbon removal.

The letter follows evidence heard by the committee as part of its enquiry into negative emissions technology and what role it can play in the transition to net zero

While the government’s pathways to net zero rely heavily on greenhouse gas removal, the EAC said it has heard evidence that these technologies are in their infancy, with little clarity over when and how they can be deployed.

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Dr Steve Smith of the University of Oxford told the committee that negative emissions technologies are “at zero or close to zero levels of deployment, certainly in the UK”.

He said that planting trees might be “the exception”, but noted that “even there the government [has] a policy and targets that we are not meeting”. 

The EAC also heard evidence suggesting that there is currently “no direction” on the transport and infrastructure projects needed to roll out technologies for capturing greenhouse gases.

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While the EAC said it supported the government in its rollout of negative emissions technology, it concluded that “the government is failing to take swift enough action to roll out technologies” while allowing high-polluting industries to rely on future technologies to reduce their carbon emissions. 

The committee has called on the government to clarify its position and policy around greenhouse gas removal as well as recommending a decoupling of removal and reduction targets.

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EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said: “Through our work, it is clear that government thinking on negative emissions technologies needs to be developed. 

“Presently there is little in terms of incentive, and very little in terms of any government direction or clarity. The fact that removal and reduction targets are combined enables many sectors averse or unable to cut emissions to dodge their responsibilities. 

“Transparency and accountability must be improved by separating these targets out and highlighting the work that needs to be done.”

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