By Ruth Herbert & James Fann

The transition to net zero is the greatest challenge of modern times, facing not just one nation but the global community. And not net zero at any cost - the Herculean task facing nations is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 whilst creating jobs and delivering a just transition for our industrial communities. The good news is that the United Kingdom and Canada are both leaders in advancing solutions to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and we are actively collaborating to reach our shared commitment of net-zero emissions.

When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, the U.K. is at the forefront of the industrialized world. In 2019, the U.K. became the world’s first major economy to adopt a legally binding ‘net-zero by 2050’ target, and we have been decarbonising our economy faster than any other G7 country – cutting greenhouse gasses more than 50 per cent since 1990 while our economy has seen robust growth over the same period.

While the geographies, economies and political landscapes are very different between G7 nations, the U.K.’s climate achievements provide a useful model for countries like Canada that are still working towards absolute reductions in CO2 emissions while sustaining jobs and economic growth.

The next stage in developing a U.K. net zero economy will require significant development of hydrogen energy systems, along with addressing the emissions from heavy industrial sources primarily through the use of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology. The U.K. government is aiming to store 20 to 30 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030 by developing its world leading ‘CCUS clusters’, where power plants, cement factories, refineries and other industrial facilities will be able to capture their CO2 emissions at source and store them in deep geological storage sites.

 The U.K. government CCUS cluster programme has selected four regions for government support – North-West England, North-East England (Teesside and Humber) and North East Scotland. Developing clusters like this across the U.K. will support its industrial heartlands by protecting 77,000 and creating 70,000 high skilled jobs, generating up to £30bn of inward investment by 2030, all whilst helping the U.K. reach net zero. But the prospect of bringing this CCUS economy to life is a daunting one, where valuable knowledge and decades of experience in Canada can help pave the way for a successful CCUS industry in the U.K.. 

Canada’s influence in the CCS field exceeds its relative size, housing five of the world’s 41 commercial CCS facilities and accounting for approximately 15 percent of the world’s current CCS capacity.  CCS projects in Canada have securely stored over 47 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to taking more than 10 million cars off the road.

Canada’s CCS projects include SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Unit 3 CCS facility, the world’s first CCS facility on a commercial power plant, which has captured more than 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 since 2014. Similarly, the Quest CCS facility, operated by Shell, has effectively sequestered over 7 million tonnes of CO2 from a refinery near Edmonton since 2015. Further along the CCS value chain, the Alberta energy sector’s extensive expertise in engineering capital-intensive projects, reservoir geology, and pipeline development played a pivotal role in constructing the world’s largest-capacity CO2 pipeline, the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, and the most extensive storage project for anthropogenic CO2 in the Weyburn-Midale oil field of southeast Saskatchewan, where more than 38 million tonnes of CO2 have been securely and permanently stored since 2000.

As with any evolving technology, the rapid expansion of CCS is accompanied by uncertainties and unforeseen challenges. Applying the lessons learned from the first generation of CCS projects is instrumental in mitigating risk, reducing costs, and enhancing the performance of the multitude of new projects planned worldwide.

Furthermore, Canada's experience in CCS regulation and policy development can offer valuable guidance to the U.K. Canadian provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have established clear regulatory frameworks for CCS projects to promote environmental safety and build public confidence and acceptance of these large-scale infrastructure and underground storage projects. By learning from Canada's regulatory approach, the U.K. can address potential barriers to CCS deployment and streamline the approval process for our CCS projects.

By working together, we can achieve greater results in less time and see the development of net zero economies with CCS to lead us into the next chapter in the U.K. and Canada’s industrial futures.

Ruth Herbert is Chief Executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, the U.K. and EU’s leading trade association advocating for the commercial deployment of CCUS

James Fann is President and CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre

An edited version of this column originally appeared in the Calgary Herald on March 26, 2024