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United Kingdom

Brief description:



The UK ratified the Kyoto Protocol in May 2002 and gave its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5% below base-year levels between 2008 and 2012. It submitted its fifth and most recent UNFCCC national communication in 2009. Between 1990 and 2007, data shows that the UK had driven down total GHG emissions by 18.4%. This is thought to be the result of energy sector restructuring, pollution control measures and other low-carbon policies. According to the UK government, further actions mean emissions will be well below levels needed to meet first-period targets.

The UK’s net CO2 emissions in 1990 were 594.2 million tonnes compared with 544.6 Mt in 2007, a decrease of 8.3%. The highest emitter continues to be the energy sector, and energy consumption increased by 22% between 1990 and 2007. However, emissions from power stations fell by 13% in the same period – due mainly to a switch from coal to gas coupled with enhanced nuclear energy and an increased use of renewable energy.

In 2007, energy supply accounted for 39.7% of net CO2 emissions. The energy mix incorporates coal, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear power and renewables. Emissions from agriculture, forestry and land-use, waste and industrial processes have all decreased between 1990 and 2007. Transport is responsible for around 21% of the UK’s GHG emissions, an increase from 16% in 1990.

An overview of annual GHG and CO2 emissions every year between 1990 and 2009 is provided in this table. A detailed breakdown of emissions by GHG and sector is given in the UK’s fifth UNFCCC national communication.

The UK already has statutory reporting requirements under its Energy Act 2010 which requires the government to report on progress on decarbonising the electricity system and on the development and use of CCS.

Issues and challenges

Despite natural gas currently supplying most of the country’s energy needs, the growth in gas-fired power generation has slowed. It is likely that the UK will need around 30 to 35GW of new electricity generation capacity over the next two decades and around two thirds of this capacity by 2020. This will result in increased emissions unless low-carbon solutions are pursued.

The UK continues to be an important producer of oil and gas, though reserves are in decline. The UK became a net importer of gas in 2004 and a net importer of oil in 2005 - in 2011, 42% of imports came from Norway, with Qatar supplying 40%. Energy supply and security is therefore a chief concern.

The population is rising steadily – it was 61 million in 2007 – a pattern set to continue well beyond 2030, and bringing with it an increase in energy demand. The climate in the British Isles is generally cool with variable temperatures and moderate seasonal changes. However, mean temperature has increased by 1% since 1980, and summers in the south of the UK are becoming hotter and drier. The UK has also been experiencing increased flooding in some areas and an increase in severe windstorms. The climate is expected to get warmer, with hotter and drier summers and milder, wetter winters. Sea level rise is a major concern for low-lying coastal areas.

In 2008, the UK government launched its Adapting to Climate Change programme, which continues to provide information on how climate change is likely to affect different regions and advice on how organisations can adapt. Its website also gives details on government initiatives and actions. Climate change is expected to have an impact on, among other issues and depending on region, health, lifestyle, transport, infrastructure, tourism and biodiversity.

Policy and commitments

In 2008, the government introduced the Climate Change Act, with binding emission reduction target of at least 80 per cent by 2050 relative to 1990 levels. The government strongly recognises the need to substantially decarbonise the power sector and that CCS has great potential. In 2009, the government stated that new fossil fuel power stations over 300MW would have to be designed carbon capture ready. A consultation White Paper indicates that new gas plants will be required to be built carbon capture ready, if approved. However, a new emissions performance standard of 450g of CO2 per kWh for fossil-fuel power plants, soon to be enshrined in the country's 2012 Energy Bill, is actually higher than the emissions of next generation gas-fired plants, which will therefore operate unabated.

The UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is responsible for national and international measures to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. It is a protagonist of CCS as a major part of tackling emissions but moves to fast-track projects may yet be undermined by government "austerity measures" resulting from the global financial crisis of 2008. UK policy and funding also has to co-ordinate with the European Union’s NER300 funding programme, which announces its awards in late 2012. See CCS Initiatives, below.

The independent advisory group, the Committee on Climate Change, gave advice on the government's fourth carbon budget in 2010, covering the period 2023-27. It recommended a 50% cut in emissions by 2025, a target which was enshrined in law in June 2011.

The task of creating the right conditions and legislation for CCS to be successfully deployed in the UK lies with DECC’s Office of Carbon Capture (OCCS). The delivery of the UK’s CCS demonstration strategy is largely the responsibility of OCCS, which developed the UK's CCS Roadmap. This outlines the £1 billion CCS commercialisation programme, a £125 million R&D innovation programme, electricity market reform (with measures to support development of CCS power plants), the development of transport and storage networks; and continued international engagement. As of October 2012, all of these recommendations are now in train.

Since the UK’s fourth report to the UNFCCC in 2006, the government has brought in a number of climate change policies and measures. For example, the Environmental Transformation Fund (ETF), which began in 2008, is intended to promote R&D into low-carbon energy and energy-efficient technologies. The fund also has an international element – it is jointly owned by DECC and the Department for International Development and administered by the World Bank.

The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme came into force in April 2010 under the Climate Change Act 2008. The cap-and-trade scheme applies to large-scale businesses and public sector organisations and is expected to cut CO2 emissions by at least 1.2 Mt per year by 2020.

Under the new EU Renewable Energy Directive, the UK government has given a commitment to source 15 per cent of the country’s energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. Other initiatives include the £1billion research and policy programme, Living With Environmental Change, and the establishment of the Energy Technologies Institute, involving government and industry and with funding of around £1 billion over ten years.


The Scottish Government has stated its full support for CCS as a technology that can significantly reduce emissions and contribute to economic growth. It is also working with the UK government to promote the safe storage of CO2 in the UK offshore area. It announced its policy on CCS in November 2009, stating that any new coal plant must include CCS on a minimum of 300MW from start-up. More details on its CCS stance and actions here.

Within the UK's Carbon Plan, Scotland states its support of fossil fuels with CCS, and alongside renewables, and energy efficiency measures, as long-term solutions to energy security.

In May 2009, the First Minister established the Scottish Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) for high-level engagement between ministers, the energy industry and other relevant bodies on the main challenges facing the energy sector in Scotland. The Thermal Generation and CCS Industry Advisory Group is a themed workstream of the SEAB, which aims to support the delivery of CCS.

In May 2012, Scotland launched its Centre for North Sea Enhanced Oil Recovery with CO2 (CENSEOR-CO2) to develop the country's potential to use CO2 captured from power plants and industry commercially in North Sea EOR operations. The centre is being backed by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and matched by commercial funding from 2Co Energy Limited. It will be based at SCCS, will begin by focusing on legislatory, social and economic challenges.

Regulatory framework

The need for a regulatory framework to promote and manage CCS in the UK has been identified as an important step towards its deployment, and the UK is recognised as one of the world leaders in developing such a framework. In 2008, the UK’s Climate Change Act came into force, with legally binding targets to achieve an 80% reduction in GHGs by 2050. It set up the independent Committee on Climate Change, tasked with enabling GHG reductions by 2020 and 2050. Read the Act here.

The UK, as part of the European Union, was required to establish laws and regulations demanded by *CCS directive, EU 2009/31/CE, by 25 June 2011. The transposition of the EU Directive into national law was effectively completed during the last half of 2011.  Measures are in place to grant third-party access to CO2 pipelines and storage sites, with detailed guidance now being prepared. Other developments relating to the EU’s CCS directive include an amendment to environmental impact assessment regulations, of 2009, for both the UK and Northern Ireland.

*The CCS directive is part of the EU's climate change package that recognises the need for developed nations to reduce GHG emissions by 30% by 2020, and between 60% and 80% by 2050. First estimates suggest up to 160 million tonnes of CO2 could be stored by 2030 – or 15% of required reductions.

In October 2010, the UK government published draft National Policy Statements (NPS) as part of moves to allow for realistic investment in low-carbon technologies. Within the NPS there is an emphasis on CCS and a requirement for fossil fuel power stations of at least 300MW capacity to be carbon-capture ready. Consultation is still under way. In Scotland, this is dealt with in the National Planning Framework 2.

Consultation on proposed amendments to onshore and offshore pipeline safety regulation, including those carrying CO2, ended in March 2011. Results are now being analysed by the Health and Safety Executive.

The Energy Act 2011 contains provisions to facilitate re-use of existing pipeline and storage site infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage. The Act also provides for incentives to support the construction of four commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects in the UK, and includes a CCS Ready policy for new fossil fuel-fired power stations.

The government has already legislated to establish a Carbon Price Floor from April 2013, and in May 2012 published its draft Energy Bill, which was consulted on widely. The final Energy Bill was unveiled in November with measures to attract £110 billion of private-sector investment and create a secure mix of electricity sources including gas, new nuclear, renewables, and CCS. It will become law in autumn 2013.

The government restated its commitment to meet legally binding carbon reduction targets laid out in its Climate Change Act 2008 - of 34% reduction by 2020 and 80% reduction by 2050 - but postponed the inclusion of a decarbonisation target for 2030 in the Bill. Instead, there are powers to pursue the target in secondary legislation, which will be exercised in 2016.

The Bill's Electricity Market Reform features the Contracts for Difference (CfDs) mechanism which gives incentives for investment into low-carbon electricity projects, including renewables, new nuclear power and commercial-scale CCS.

The emissions performance standard imposes a limit for operators of fossil-fuel power plants of 450g of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity until the year 2045. This reinforces existing policy under the Planning Act 2008: National Policy Statement for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure that no new coal-fired power plant should be given approval unless it includes CCS. But it has also led to criticism that it will allow gas-fired power plants to operate without the need for CCS.

Setting the EPS until 2045 has been termed "grandfathering" i.e. the emissions limit under which a new plant is given consent will apply until 2045, and aims to give investors certainty about the regulatory system they are operating in.

The UK's Annual Energy Statement 2012 provides a good up-to-date overview of the country's energy sector and can be read here. The UK's Energy Efficiency Strategy of November 2012 sets out energy efficiency opportunities in the UK in the coming decades.

The new Gas Generation Strategy, launched in December 2012, paves the way for more shale gas extraction and at least 30 new unabated gas-fired power plants. This strategy also restates the role of CCS in the UK's transition to a low-carbon economy.


The Scottish Government is a major protagonist of CCS as a key route to significantly reducing CO2 emissions and promoting economic growth. It continues to back R&D into CCS technologies and has funded extensive research into Scotland’s offshore storage potential and the development of relevant regulatory frameworks. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 is the most far-reaching environmental legislation brought in by the Scottish Parliament. It has set an ambitious target of reducing GHGs by 42% by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050 – in line with the rest of the UK.

In 2009, the Scottish Government formed a regulatory group to consider the permits required across the entire chain of CCS activities. The group has since been ensuring that legislation in Scotland meets the requirements of the EU CCS Directive.

In August 2010, the group tested the regulatory system by taking a CCS project application through every stage of the approval process. In conjunction with the Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage, the government then published a CCS Regulatory Test Toolkit – this has since been endorsed by the European Commission as a model of best practice for other EU member states.

In 2012, Scotland released its Electricity Generation Policy Statement which specified that new fossil fuel plants over 300 MW will need to demonstrate CCS readiness (previously it applied only to coal).

CCS initiatives and funding

The UK Government finally announced a new £1billion CCS Commercialisation Programme in April 2012. The competition is open to both gas and coal-fired power plants and is aimed at supporting one or more commercial-scale demonstration project by the 2020s. At the same time, DECC released the UK's first CCS Roadmap, as well as a commitment to long-term support for CCS initiatives, "subject to affordability", through its low-carbon Contracts for Difference. The department also pledged £125 million for research and development, including a new UK CCS Research Centre - to be coordinated by the University of Edinburgh. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are to invest £10m over 5 years, with funding of £3m coming from DECC. Key documents for the commercialisation programme, as well as the CCS Roadmap, can be downloaded here. DECC closed the competition to bids in early July 2012, and in March 2013 they announced that White Rose and Peterhead are the two preferred bidders. At the same time, DECC announced its support for the three projects shortlisted for European Union funding, through the NER300 fund, namely, Teesside, White Rose and Peterhead.

Two successive UK governments have shown a clear commitment to CCS with their stated intentions to fund full-scale CCS demonstration projects. The first competition, announced in 2007, ended in failure when the government could not reach a financing deal with the one remaining finalist – Longannet – for the ₤1 billion grant on offer. The government remained committed to providing public funding, culminating in the April 2012 competition launch.

In March 2012, the UK government launched a £20 million competition to fund innovations in CCS technology, prior to the £1 billion competition launch.

Regional development agency Yorkshire Forward outlined its vision for a shared CCS network in 2008 in its report, A Carbon Capture and Storage Network for Yorkshire and Humber. Through its wholly-owned company CO2Sense, it is working with industry, investors and government to develop plans for a large-scale CO2 transport network - or CCS cluster - in the Yorkshire and Humber region of the UK. The network could capture at least 90% of the CO2 produced by the region's conventional power stations and heavy industry, for storage in depleted gas fields and saline formations under the southern North Sea. CO2Sense believes a CCS cluster in the region could reduce the UK’s total current CO2 emissions by around 10%.

The Tees Valley Industrial Programme (TVIP) is a £60m investment – backed by the DECC - between 2009 and 2012 to fast-track new opportunities in the region for low carbon and advanced manufacturing.  In August 2010, Progressive Energy and Rio Tinto Alcan’s plans for CCS projects in the north east of the UK were awarded grants from the TVIP. See North East CCS Cluster below for project details or this link for more about TVIP.

National Grid, the manager of Britain’s natural gas-delivery network, is looking into the use of its existing grid of gas pipelines to transport CO2 for eventual offshore storage, including 300 km of pipelines in Scotland, as well as old and new pipelines in the Thames Valley and Yorkshire areas. Its subsidiary, National Grid Carbon, has been created to develop the infrastructure needed.

The UK submitted seven CCS projects to the EU’s NER300 programme – a €4.5 billion fund to support CCS and renewables projects across the European Union. Longannet pulled out in late 2011, but Hunterston, Drax, Killingholme, Don Valley, Peterhead and Progressive Energy’s Teesside bid (see NE Cluster) must wait until the end of 2012 to see if they will outbid another six CCS projects from other EU member states.

In November 2012 a cross-sector task force set up by the UK government concluded in its interim report that CCS with power generation could be cost competitive when ranked with other low carbon sources of power. The report laid out key requirements for realising cost reductions. Read the UK CCS Costs Reduction Task Force report here. A week later, ETI and Ecofin Research Foundation unveiled the report, Mobilising private sector finance for CCS in the UK, into attracting investment for CCS development. This study also pointed out the economic benefits of CCS.

In July 2014 the UK Government announced that renewable energy projects in the UK, including CCS projects, would be competing over a ₤200 million grant through the Contracts of Difference system.

For more information on the UK’s current CCS projects, follow the links below.

Storage potential

The North Sea off the UK’s east coast – and, in particular, off Scotland and the north east of England – offers the greatest potential for long-term storage of captured CO2, either within depleted oil and gas reservoirs or for use in EOR projects. The Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture (SCCC) published its Opportunities for CO2 Storage around Scotland report in 2009, followed by a detailed analysis of sites in 2011. These reports show that the geology below the Moray Firth in the north of Scotland could potentially store decades worth of CO2 captured from Scotland’s coal-fired power stations, such as Longannet in Fife. The technology could also provide a massive jobs boost by 2020.

In September 2012, business advisers Scottish Enterprise released a report highlighting the potential for a Central North Sea Storage Hub to store up to 100 million tonnes of C02 a year by 2030 and 500 million tonnes a year by 2050. Download the report, Enabling CCS deployment in the UK and Europe.

In 2008, the Scottish Government introduced legislation to allow the introduction of a common UK framework for carbon capture and storage. As a result, Scotland will license storage activity out to 12 nautical miles, but the UK government will have to consult the Scottish assembly for all licences between 12 and 200 nautical miles within Scottish waters.

The Yorkshire Forward initiative is exploring potential storage sites below the southern North Sea – also targeting depleted oil and gas reservoirs and the possibility of selling captured CO2 for use in EOR projects. Its wholly-owned company CO2Sense and National Grid Carbon are developing plans for a CCS transport-and-storage hub within the region.

A review of the UK's potential storage capacity conducted by the Energy Technologies Institute identified almost 600 potential storage units, both depleted oil and gas reservoirs and saline aquifers. It concluded that the UK has storage capacity potential to meet its CCS needs of up to 15 billion tonnes over the next 100 years – approximately 9 billion tonnes in depleted oil and gas fields and up to 60 billion tonnes in saline aquifer stores. More details here.

In March 2011, a CO2 storage study by Eunomia - commissioned by Scotland's Hunterston project partners - identified depleted gas fields below the East Irish Sea, which could potentially be used to store over 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions from the UK and Ireland. Eunomia's report, The East Irish Sea CCS Cluster: A Conceptual Design, highlighted storage capacity within the Liverpool Bay and Morecambe Bay natural gas fields as the means to decarbonise the industrial areas on the west of mainland UK.

The UK's Crown Estate, as owner of the UK Contintental Shelf, granted its first offshore licence for carbon storage to the proposed Peterhead CCS Project in July 2012. The process for applying for agreements for lease (AfL) formed part of the government's CCS commercialisation programme, and other AfLs were expected to follow suit.

International co-operation

The UK is a leading CCS player internationally, through its ambitious national programme and its involvement in a number of key fora and agreements.

The government is working with the EU Commission to ensure that the development of CCS in the UK meets European ambitions to have up to 12 CCS demonstration projects in place by 2015.

The UK is also part of the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), a coalition of stakeholders set up in 2005 to promote CCS as a key technology for combating climate change. ZEP is also an advisor to the European Commission on the research, demonstration and deployment of CCS.

The UK is part of the EU-China NZEC (near zero emissions coal) agreement, announced at an EU-China Summit in 2005. This aims to develop and demonstrate CCS in China and Europe, with partners agreeing to develop and demonstrate advanced coal technologies through CCS by 2020. In 2009, the UK and China supported an accelerated timescale of 2015 for an operational plant.

The UK is part of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, an international climate change initiative focusing on the development of economically viable CCS technologies.

The North Sea Basin Task Force was set up by the UK and Norway in 2005 to develop shared principles for regulating and managing CO2 storage below the North Sea. Members from industry and government represent both countries along with Germany and the Netherlands. The Four Kingdoms initiative was set up by the UK, Norway, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia in 2008, as a way for the oil producing nations to collaborate on the development and deployment of CCS.

The National Centre for CCS in South Africa was launched in 2009, with part funding from the UK's DECC. The centre conducted a study of the potential for CCS in South Africa in 2004 and published a CO2 storage atlas to assess potential storage sites in 2010. The DECC is now funding an assessment of the onshore Durban/Zululand basin, as candidate for a test injection.

In India, the DECC has provided funding for capacity building CCS projects, such as an international workshop on CCS in the power sector and a regional study by the British Geological Survey of potential storage sites. An assessment of the potential to develop CCs in Indonesia was part-funded by the UK, and the results were launched at a joint event with the IEA and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Jakarta in 2009.

More information

In April 2012, the UK Energy Research Centre published a two-year study into the uncertainties surrounding the deployment of CCS in the UK. The report, Carbon Capture and Storage: Realising the Potential, highlighted the need to overcome identified technical, economic and financial uncertainties. Download the report here.

UK launches £1billion CCS competition, April 2012:

Competition update, March 2013

The Guardian



DECC minister's speech to Oslo Energy Forum, February 2012

UK energy statistics for 2011, released February 2012

Department of Energy & Climate Change website, on CCS

DECC’s Office of Carbon Capture and Storage

The Scottish Government website, on emissions and climate change

Support mechanismes in United Kingdom: