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Massive effort needed to remove carbon already in atmosphere alongside emissions reductions

Published March 23, 2022

Massive effort needed to remove carbon already in atmosphere alongside emissions reductions

While all sectors of the economy must make major carbon dioxide reductions in the next 10 years, it will also be necessary to remove up to 220Gt of carbon from the atmosphere by 2050.

This level of removal of carbon is necessary to bring emissions to a level compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, according to a report from the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC).

The ETC says such drastic removals can only be achieved if all available options are explored simultaneously. These would include natural solutions such as reforestation and soil improvement, engineered approaches such as direct air capture, and hybrid solutions such as bioenergy plus carbon capture and storage.

The ETC report argues that not only is it necessary to implement a mixture of ‘deep decarbonisation’ measures that prevent carbon entering the atmosphere (eg cutting coal use by half and ending 70% of deforestation by 2030), but these must be matched by equally widespread efforts on all fronts to remove carbon that has already entered the atmosphere.

It may be possible to remove as much as 3.5 Gt each year by 2030, but only if the full range of solutions are deployed. The priority for such sequestration efforts will initially be on natural approaches such as reforestation, but after this decade the emphasis will be on new engineered and hybrid technologies.

The report says governments and corporates must significantly increase financial support to reduce the costs of carbon removal technologies. Currently funding for emissions removal is less than $10 billion per year. The voluntary carbon market removes only 10 Mt per year. By contrast, removing 3.5 Gt/ year of carbon require annual payments of over $200 billion / year, the report estimates.

Alfa Energy’s Principal Consultant, Sustainability Strategy , Seyed Ebrahimi commented: “Carbon removal strategies must expand. The trend is showing carbon removal methods are becoming less costly and the associated technologies more accessible. This is significant, as the complexity of globalised supply chains makes it difficult to map efforts to sustainably reduce emissions. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to clean power generation, and a mixture of nature-based and engineered solutions is required to remove emissions. We need the right energy mix where each geographical region employs the renewable source most appropriate to its context. The focus of investment should move away from a blanket view of renewables and towards the context/requirement of each region. What’s considered relevant to countries with high/long sun exposure (e.g., Spain and Saudi Arabia generating solar power) could vary significantly to those with strong water stream/reserves (Alpine and Scandinavian regions use of hydro), and island nations tidal generation potential (UK). If we can couple that with a range of natural and engineered removal methods such as CCS and reforestation, we could be in a good place to meet the 1.5-degree target.”