EUROPE must press ahead with an international Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) programme under the North Sea, scientists have warned.

A new report highlights the importance of the scheme which could create up to 500 new jobs and be worth £140 million to the economy.

They also warn it must take place if Europe is to meet its environmental goals. Scotland has set its own targets that at least 30% of the country's energy consumption should come from green sources by 2020.

Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) said in the report the nations bordering the North Sea should identify six possible sites over the next five years. It added that the areas must be chosen for a variety of projects and prove there is storage capacity for up to two billion tonnes of CO2.

SCCS said carbon capture is the only technological option available for reducing CO2 from many industrial sectors, including cement, chemicals and iron and steel. It would mean carbon dioxide is captured before it is emitted into the atmosphere and stored in sub-seabed reservoirs.

Stuart Haszeldine, SCCS ­director and Edinburgh University's professor of Carbon Capture & Storage, said people in the field were "angry and depressed" by the lack of progress. He added: "The deployment of CCS on industrial CO2 sources and power generation is essential if Europe is to meet its long-term climate change objectives, retain jobs and improve low-carbon competitiveness.

"But CCS is impossible without the availability of CO2 storage. The recommendations set out in our report identify how Europe can unlock the North Sea as a shared CO2 storage resource."

Chris Bryceland, of Scottish Enterprise, said: "There is a real opportunity for Scotland to be at the forefront of developing CCS. For example, if Peterhead is developed as an import facility, it could receive four million tonnes of CO2 per year, leading to the creation of over 500 jobs."

He said it would mean more than £140m worth of economic activity in the area.

SCCS, which comprises the British Geological Survey, and Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities, unveiled the report in Brussels yesterday before a European Parliament debate on the future of EU CCS policy.

It is anxious CCS is addressed in the EU's 2030 framework for climate and energy policy.

Scientists are concerned by the delays in a UK-wide £1bn competition, first launched in 2007, to design and build commercial CCS systems. The UK Government has selected projects in Peterhead and Yorkshire as preferred bidders.

Stewart Stevenson, SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan and a former climate change minister, said progress towards CCS technology in Scotland had repeatedly hit UK Government roadblocks.

He said the scientists' warnings are "deeply concerning, and ones that everyone in Scotland would do well to heed".

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman welcomed the discussions and said it remained committed to CCS.