What is carbon removal?

Carbon removal means restoring balance to the Earth’s carbon cycle. It most often focuses on removing excess (mostly carbon-based) greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and permanently storing them. Some carbon removal  solutions explore the oceans too.  

There are many ways to remove carbon. But approaches fall into two main categories:

The first are nature-based solutions, ways of farming, forestry and land management that capture carbon in soils and trees.
The second way to capture carbon from the atmosphere are engineered solutions. These can include mineralising rocks, capturing carbon from bioenergy plants, or capturing carbon directly from ambient air.

Reference Two

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) AR5 Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

IPCC Report (opens in new tab)

Why is it needed?

Climate change is now near the top of risk registers for most countries, cities and corporations[1]. Without dramatic action we will experience extreme and lasting disruption[2].

To minimise and contain this risk, most OECD nations need to achieve ‘Net Zero’ targets by no later than 2050[3]. Even in the most aggressive climate action scenarios however, some emissions still remain; and today, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already beyond safe limits. The role of carbon removal is to both start enabling Net Zero emissions in the near term, and to scale up across all nations to slow, halt and ultimately reverse a root cause of global warming in the long term.

Reference Three

"Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C"

View the nature.com article (opens in new tab)

What are the Big Questions?

The mid-range estimate of how much carbon removal is needed is around 15 Gigatonnes per year by 2100[4].

Even at a conservative ‘price’ for carbon of 60 Euros per tonne of today’s money, this represents a sector worth 900 Billion Euros per year. If developed nations are to take a substantial share of this burden by 2050 this means developing a sector of the economy similar in scale to the global commercial aviation industry in 30 years.

This requires a lot of new knowledge, new partnerships, technologies, policy and social dialogue. Big questions for the development of this sector are:

  • What is the right level of public subsidy for each technology?
  • Which technologies should be maximised where?
  • What are the ethical implications of each technology and each carbon removal policy
  • What moral hazards exist in rapid deployment of carbon removal?
  • How can emission removals be monitored, reported and verified?
  • How can the societies in different places develop and support the right solutions for their regions?

Want to contribute to carbon removal?