Back in 2018, Alex Steffen first coined the notion of PREDATORY DELAY, with reference to companies and investors who make all the right noises about addressing climate change or ecological collapse, but continue to extract profits from wholly unsustainable and increasingly destructive economic activities.

‘This allows them to be seen as responsible and caring. They want to change, they claim; they just think we need prudent, appropriately paced change, mindful of economic trade-offs and judiciously studied – by which they mean cosmetic change for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, they fight like hell to delay change of any real magnitude, attacking not only the prospects of our kids and kin in the future, but increasingly of our society in the present. Their delay has real, serious human consequences, across generations. They’re taking, not creating; the harm they cause is measurable.’

Three years on, the ranks of predatory delayers have massively swollen – since outright climate denial is no longer available to them for fear of sounding like utter idiots. They’re everywhere – in politics, business associations, investment banks, so-called ‘think-tanks’, right-wing newspapers and so on. As Michael Mann so eloquently summarises in his brilliant ‘The New Climate War’, these predatory delayers are the new denialists, ruthlessly undermining our chances of doing what so urgently needs to be done to address the Climate Emergency.

As I suggested in my last blog, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) provides an excellent case study for understanding how PREDATORY DELAY works in practice. The rollout of CCS on power stations is about as naked an exercise in PREDATORY DELAY as can be imagined.

But does CCS offer solutions in other sectors, particularly those ‘hard to abate’ sectors about which we’re quite rightly hearing more and more? Two sectors are now making an increasingly sophisticated case for CCS: concrete and hydrogen. And what a wonderful contrast that provides!


Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in the world. Just by nature of the cement manufacturing process, it’s technically impossible to get to Zero Carbon Concrete. Whatever the feedstock used in cement kilns, however ‘low-carbon’ it might be, the cementitious process itself (as limestone is converted into quick lime) causes about a tonne of CO2 to be released for every tonne of cement produced.

There are now all sorts of techniques for reducing the overall carbon footprint of cement, and all the big companies have set reduction targets. For instance, LafargeHolcim has committed to halving that CO2 intensity figure (emissions per tonne produced) by 2030. Even so, that means there will still be millions of tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere, and the only way of getting to Zero Carbon Cement (and, eventually, to zero carbon concrete) will be to capture that CO2 and store it away. Hence the recent announcement from LafargeHolcim that it will be piloting more than 20 different CCS projects over the next few years.

Does this constitute PREDATORY DELAY? In my opinion, absolutely not. Concrete is a critical raw material in the global economy, and however good we get at recycling it or decarbonizing its production through aggressive innovation, we need to stop those millions of tons getting into the atmosphere. That means the price of concrete will rise accordingly as this particular externality (CO2 emissions) is properly internalised – but that too is a good thing! The price we pay for things has to reflect their true cost.


In a world where hydrogen is being hyped as the solution to so many different problems, it’s getting more and more important to distinguish between what is called ‘grey hydrogen’ (using natural gas to make the hydrogen through a process called ‘steam methane reforming’), ‘blue hydrogen’ (using the same process, but capturing the CO2 emissions through CCS), and ‘green hydrogen’ (using electrolysis powered by renewable electricity).

Almost all the hydrogen we use today is grey, producing a massive global carbon footprint. A tiny fraction is green, and it’s currently very expensive – you need a lot of those green electrons to make one tonne of hydrogen!

So given that we’re going to need a lot of hydrogen in the future (to help with decarbonizing these hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, glass or trucking), does the answer lie with Blue Hydrogen?
YES – according to all fossil fuel companies, and all EU countries and the UK, that now lump both Blue Hydrogen and Green Hydrogen together as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’.
NO – according to climate campaigners and many independent academics.

All the arguments that apply to CCS on thermal power stations (as in earlier blog) still apply to CCS on any hydrogen production system using natural gas. From that point of view, the fact that hydrogen is the end product is entirely irrelevant. Worse yet, there are early indications that Blue Hydrogen could end up generating 20% more emissions over its life cycle than just burning the natural gas in the first place! A lot of that is down to the extra energy required to power the carbon capture process. What’s more, it takes many tonnes of natural gas to produce a single tonne of Blue Hydrogen.

There’s massive political and corporate momentum building up behind all this – with hundreds of millions of pounds at stake (as seen in the UK Government’s new Hydrogen Strategy published on August 17th). This talks up both blue and green hydrogen (as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’), and is still blathering on about needing a lot of hydrogen in the future not just for those hard-to-abate sectors but to provide an alternative to natural gas in our heating systems. Insane!

So hats off to Chris Jackson, CEO of a hydrogen company called Protium, who used to be Chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. He’s just resigned, arguing that he can no longer advocate ‘in good faith’ for blue hydrogen:

‘Our industry is at a very important crossroad, one where the decisions we make will have long-lasting effects. I fully appreciate the energy transition cannot be achieved by one silver bullet, and green hydrogen alone cannot solve all the world’s challenges. Equally, I cannot ignore or make arguments for blue hydrogen being a viable and ‘green energy solution’ – a fact also validated by external studies.’

In other words, unlike with concrete, blue hydrogen represents PREDATORY DELAY at its worse!


On the CCS front, that just leaves the very controversial BECCS – Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, as pioneered here in the UK by Drax on a massive scale. Many NGOs have already condemned BECCS as a massive distraction, and therefore a particularly insidious variant of PREDATORY DELAY.

But that warrants a blog all of its own!