UK committee on climate change - Video Transcription

Chris Stark: [00:00:05] I want to start by saying something that I hadn't really prepared, and i t's something I've been thinking about as I've been listening to this. There's something odd here, isn't there? I imagine that most of us are in this room because we think that CCS is a good idea. Who doesn't think it's a good idea? That may be a good place to start. S o there's something odd, because I tell you now, CCS is essential for the things that we know we need to do to address climate change. And yet we haven't landed the killer blow, the thing that's really tipped over the policymakers and the decision makers into supporting it in the way that they need to. And I don't stand here with an answer to that question because I think the organization that I lead now, the Committee on Climate Change, has been one of the strongest advocates for climate change along the way. All the evidence stacks up, so I think there's a problem with the way we tell the story and I'm going to have a go at that today: I think that really we need to go again, look at what the story is here and really get down to brass tacks, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with the evidence that you're seeing prepared here. In fact, in all the time I've been involved in this sector, which is amounting to something like seven or eight years now, that's always been the case and we're refining it every year. So it's not a lack of evidence that's leading to this. I think it's something much more emotional and I think that's something that we'll need to return to. I'm still reeling, actually, from Leslie's devastating critique of Scottish political twitter, so forgive me if I haven't prepared my comments properly. 

 

Chris Stark: [00:01:55] Let's go back to the basics, let's have a very simple restatement of the problem that we face here at the moment, and this is something I've been thinking about for a while since I took this job on about a year ago. Climate change is the most global of issues and yet the way in which we approach it is about national plans. Now we can spend ages worrying about whether that's going to work or not. But the thing I think that is lost obviously, often rather, in the discussion of all this is that there's a very simple thing going on here. There is a linear relationship between temperature and cumulative CO2 emissions. That is a linear relationship between how much we've been putting up in the atmosphere and how much the atmosphere has been warming. And you can look back at the historical data, as I often do, because I use a lot of slides, and it's a very useful slide to show, and you can show that very clear. relationship between post industry, the industrial revolution, the cumulative CO2 emissions since, and temperature. And weirdly that gets lost. That's a very simple thing to say and is true and the evidence supports it, all the observational data supports it as well. And if you look at that data you see this very linear relationship and it tells you that we have reached around about 1 degree of warming since industry started. And we in the UK, historically, have been probably the biggest contributors per head of population to that issue. Only the U.S. really rivals us. You might know that we're doing some work at the moment looking at whether we have the appropriate target for addressing climate change and one of the things we're looking at is that historical question and we are almost at the point potentially when the U.S. might overtake us, which is a real bugger when you're trying to present a story about what we're doing here. But I will confirm that by the time we finish our work on net zero. 

 

Chris Stark: [00:03:44] Of course we've reaped the benefits from all that economically here in the UK, and who are we to tell the rest of the world that they shouldn't get the benefits of that too? So we've got a pretty fundamental set of issues here. And just to go back to that one degree of warming, and if one degree doesn't sound like much, it is, believe me. The scientists at IPCC have told us that, with a pretty high degree of confidence now, the kind of events that you are seeing taking place and being reported more regularly around the world - things like heat waves, fires, droughts - can be attributed, with confidence again, to warming at that scale. And it's that linearity, and I just want to make this point at the start, I'm going to restate it, it's that linearity between those cumulative CO2 emissions and temperature that makes this thing very clear, it seems to me. If you want to stop further warming, and I'd suggest to you that we do, then we need to stop burning fossil fuels - and we're not doing very well at that at the moment, it is growing at the moment, our emissions globally are growing at the moment - or we have to start sequestering CO2. Or we might do both, and again I put that to you that might be the best way through this. That's it. Conversation over. So we need to find a way of doing something about that. 

 

Chris Stark: [00:05:02] And if we want to aim for a particular temperature threshold, and that's what the Paris agreement talks about, and again I presume we do because the world is signed up to that with a few notable exceptions. Then we have a remaining budget, on current trends, for our use of carbon. And again: end of story. Simple. That's the way it is. And the Paris Agreement talks about one and a half degrees warming post industry. So that is presumably the threshold that the world would like to aim for. And the really very simple, and I hope, easy to communicate point here is that that basically amounts to, on current trajectories, between 10 and 20 years of carbon emissions, in the way that we currently use them. And I'll tell you now, that is much more, rather that is much less, than what we know is recoverable in terms of fossil fuels. And that leaves you with this fascinating set of issues really to deal with. A worrying, troubling set of issues to deal with. Think about that 10 to 20 year period that I'm talking about. I had a discussion yesterday that Stuart and some others may have been at, and I was thinking of some ways of describing that 10 to 20 year period that lies ahead. Over that period, we expect the world's infrastructure to double. Over that period we expect the world economy to double. And that's the period, that the IPCC in their report which they published last year on that one and a half degree threshold, that's the period over which they say we need to cut emissions by up to half. So I put it to you that this really is the moment, right? This is the point where we have a choice globally of what we do about that. Because if we lock in the kind of behaviours and fossil fuel driven growth that we've had in the past then we will not be able to reverse it. Even if you assume with carbon capture and storage some really ambitious scenarios for the future. So again I put that to you. This is the moment: we have to change tack. And I suppose a question - that was my intro by the way - my question to you: what on earth do we do about all that? 

 

Chris Stark: [00:07:13] Well I'm going to say to you that I think we can do something about this and I think it is possible for us here in the UK to lead that and to do something about it and demonstrate that the rest of the world can do it too. We need to start with the easy stuff - i say "easy" - we need to start with the easy stuff. We have to decarbonise power, of course; we have to decarbonise the transport system, we have to decarbonise that heat system. We actually know a heck of a lot about how to do that and we also know that it's a heck of a lot cheaper than we thought to do that too. So there's the first point. But we know that's not enough, and that's when we come to CCS. And I think this is the story we have to start talking about. I mean this is an essential component. CCC has been extremely clear on this: it's an essential component of any real steps towards genuine decarbonisation. We like CCS in the Committee on Climate Change: that might surprise you. But it's worth explaining why we like it. We don't just like it because it's one of the solutions here: it offers something a bit more than that. It gives us options, crucially, for how you address that central challenge of how you decarbonise the whole economy, and it makes it much cheaper overall all to do this thing. And these are the reasons to do it, as well as all the reasons that you've heard about today. I mean let's just go through it: CCS is a really good partner for those sectors that we regard here in the CCC as "hard to reduce". We can couple it with production of hydrogen - we know that can happen, and that's such a key part of this project too - and that's a means to create a low carbon fuel and we know how important that fuel is to some of the other challenges that are out there too. We can marry it up with biomass and then we have a really essential way - and you see how essential it is in some of the pathways that the IPCC and others project for global pathways - that allows you talk about a way in which we can remove emissions, actually negative emissions. And it offers a solution therefore, to some of the sectors that we don't see a solution, like aviation, for. For every emission that comes from aviation, for every tonne that comes from aviation, here is a place to subtract it. So we have to think about it that way. In scientific terms it's geological storage, so it's not just sitting in the surface ready to come back into the atmosphere again: this is a really sensible thing to do. We can lock it away and we should be clear that it is a safe way of doing so. And we could even consider it as a partner to electricity production, although I know that's not very fashionable to talk about any longer, but it is possible, of course, to do that. 

 

Chris Stark: [00:09:50] The point here is that CCS is a genuinely strategic option. It keeps different pathways on the table, I suppose that's the best way to think about it, certainly how I think about the future. And therefore it makes it more likely, as we have more options, that we'll achieve the overall goal. So you, the people in this room and all the people around this sector, need to think of yourselves as being that essential component to those kind of strategic options. And we need to land that killer blow, in terms of pushing the policy over into actual practice and happening and making it happen. And I think we're almost there. So this is the kind of crucial thing: I think here in the UK it seems to me that there is a much clearer sense that there's something that can be done again. And more and more I think a part of that is that we can describe this as an opportunity for UK leadership again, and I think the UK wants the leadership. It's a new way to rectify those past indiscretions that I talked about at the start. And it's a new way to demonstrate leadership on what I regard as - and you would expect me to say this, but I do think it's true - the defining question for humanity at the moment is whether we can get ourselves around the task of tackling climate change. So it's much more than just UK emissions, it's about demonstrating that we can genuinely do something that it is a service to the rest of the world. And fairly obviously it's time to stop talking about that and it's time to get on and doing it. And I know we've had these false dawns before, and I know there's been a lot of handwringing about those false dawns before, but they're in the past and we need to think about how we can move on from that and do something constructive. And that's why this project, and I should say projects like it, are so important. They are a practical assessment, of course, of something that can be done. This isn't really a test, actually - we know we can do this, that all of this demonstrates how easily we could do this if there's a will to do it. It opens the door, of course, to real investment in this sector if we pursue this project. And here we have an extremely strategic installation that opens the door to a host of other things. You've heard all of this today. But it makes it so important: crucially, this is a European hub we're talking about here for this stuff. This is not, again, a local or a UK issue: this is a genuinely international question if we can get ourselves over the line on it. And that's really why it now needs to happen. We need to see CCS developed in the UK. The world needs to see CCS developed in the UK too. We've said to the government that they mustn't plan for any kind of 2050 scenario without CCS, and that's because of the additional cost that comes from it if you don't have it there. And we know what we need to do to get this project off the ground and that's really where I want to end, is by saying we know we need to have that capital funding. And it will look like a big number, and policymakers like me in my old role in government would gulp when they see those numbers. Well, you know, it's not a big number in the long run so we have to present it in that way. And it also requires of course a regulatory regime for that transport and that storage to be in place as well. But we know how to do that too. And this is the essential step. So I really hope that we see this project continue, and projects like it, to the next stage, to the FEED and then ultimately to full construction. And I hope that we can start leading now on this issue, and it is one of the major issues that we know face, and take a bit of pride here in the UK about doing that and doing it in the right way. These are very topical discussions as we think about that net zero target in the Committee at the moment. And every scenario for the future that we look at to go beyond that 80 per cent target really does rest on projects like this. So I really wish you well, all of you in the room, in the next stage and I'll just say that you of course will have the full backing of the Committee in all of this, but also crucially the full backing of science and economics, and who could want more than that? 

 

Chris Stark: [00:13:49] So good luck, good luck with it all.