CCS is a process for trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) and transporting it to underground geological sinks for storage. CO2 is the principal contributor to climate change, which poses potentially devastating threats to people, wildlife and habitats across the world.
CCS is being heralded by government and the power sector as the solution to the high levels of emissions these new coal-fired power stations would create. However, CCS technology has yet to be demonstrated on a large scale power plant anywhere in the world. As a result, new coal plants are currently only proposed to be 'capture ready' at the stage of construction. The stated intention is to fit CCS technology at a later date, once its financial and technical feasibility has been established.
WWF-UK commissioned Edinburgh University's Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage to explore what the concept of 'capture readiness' means and what actions are needed to guarantee that all 'capture ready' power stations will be fitted with full-scale, working CCS within a reasonable timeframe. WWF has summarised and assessed these findings in a new report, Evading Capture.
"Currently, claims of CCS readiness do little more than refer to the need for power plants to leave space on the site for CCS equipment to be retrofitted in the future," said Keith Allott, head of WWF-UK's climate change programme. "There's no deadline for conversion to full scale CCS, let alone any guarantee that this would then be met. Reliance on an as yet unproven technology, however promising it may be, is a risky business – the future of the planet's climate cannot rely upon good intentions.
"To avoid dangerous climate change, there needs to be a rapid decarbonisation of the power sector and a radical shift in the way in which the UK and indeed the world sources its energy," added Keith Allott. "Renewables and greater energy efficiency should form the bulk of that shift, but fossil fuels using proven and strongly legislated CCS could also play a role."
At present the power sector is responsible for an estimated 37% of global emissions. In 2007, it was responsible for one third of the UK's total emissions – 180 million tonnes of CO2.
WWF is calling for the introduction of an emissions standard similar to that already in force in California, which will set legal limits on the amount of CO2 that new and replacement power stations can emit.
"It is time for industrialised countries to reduce our own carbon emissions and demonstrate the technology and policies at home that will pave the way to a truly sustainable, low-carbon economy," said Keith Allott. "Without an emissions standard to stop new unabated coal, we simply won't be able to meet the emissions targets currently proposed by the UK government's Climate Change Bill."
Today WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also issued a joint statement on the threat of new unabated coal stations. The four groups call on the Government to prioritise renewable energy and energy efficiency, to introduce a Californian-style emission standard for new power plants and to ensure that the UK's programme to demonstrate CCS technology is well-focused and is not used to legitimise a new generation of much larger "capture ready" coal stations.