By Professor Cameron Hepburn and Dr Steve Smith
The first law of holes goes like this: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.”
There is a second law, too: “When you have stopped digging, you’re still in a hole.”
Climate change is a serious hole. And we are digging faster than ever. The first thing to do is stop, by halting our planet-heating emissions of greenhouse gases.
But the heating effect of carbon dioxide is essentially permanent. After we stop digging, the hole will still remain.
Some good news is that many governments are now committed to achieving net zero emissions. That means stopping greenhouse gas emissions wherever we can, as fast as possible. But even with strenuous effort, some sectors are unlikely to cease emitting as fast as required.
So we’ll also need Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) to balance residual emissions and, potentially, to start filling in the hole.
GGR is a term for a wide range of techniques that actively capture greenhouse gases, such as CO₂, from the atmosphere, and lock them away durably. There are lots of ways to do this, from planting trees to high-tech machines, and we will likely need a mix of them. You can explore the various techniques on our ‘What is Greenhouse Gas Removal?’ page.
“Collaboration is key to our approach at CO2RE, and we’re well placed to bring together the growing GGR community”
In the UK, the Climate Change Committee has estimated we will need to remove 83-169 million tonnes of CO₂ every year by 2050 to achieve our net zero target. That’s huge – it is up to a third of our country’s entire emissions in 2019. So we need a huge new industry to take CO2 out of the air, developed from a standing start.
The UK is tackling this challenge with the creation of CO2RE and five affiliated Demonstrator projects – each trailing a different approach to take CO2 out of the atmosphere – funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as the GGR-D Programme.
At CO2RE, we are conducting cross-cutting research on the environmental, economic, social, ethical and governance implications of GGR approaches. We’ve identified 6 priorities for getting GGR right, and our research is guided by these priorities: a clear vision; public support; innovation; incentives; monitoring, reporting and verification; and decision-making tools.
We also co-ordinate the wider GGR-D Programme, working closely with five Demonstrator projects, each trialling a different method for GGR at various sites across the country: biochar, enhanced rock weathering, peatland restoration, perennial biomass crops, and woodland creation and management.
Collaboration is key to our approach at CO2RE, and we’re well placed to bring together the growing GGR community. We are working with policymakers, engaging with the public, and collaborating with business and civil society to co-design activities and support the fledgling GGR sector. At this formative stage we are making it a priority to promote a diverse and inclusive culture: welcoming different perspectives, challenging prejudice and ensuring fairness. You can find out more about our values and approach on the ‘How we work’ page.
This website is designed to be a useful resource for researchers, members of the public, policymakers, businesses and the media. Our Publications page includes our team’s recent journal articles, policy briefings and thought pieces on GGR. Our What is Greenhouse Gas Removal? page is a resource on the fundamental questions around GGR, such as why it is needed and what the main methods are. We’re building an evaluation tool, so you can assess GGR methods for yourself, including their permanence, environmental performance and social considerations.
We would love to keep in touch and keep you up to date as we progress. You can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and can join our mailing list to receive our newsletter. Keep an eye out for new research, events and funding opportunities. If you have any feedback or questions, you can also get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please do engage and help – let’s stop digging, and perhaps you could even help us to plant a tree in the hole, before we fill it in!