By George Hope
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is “unavoidable” if net zero is to be achieved, to compensate for the remaining emissions from the most difficult activities to decarbonise. That’s according to the landmark 6th Assessment Report on what we can do to stem climate change by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This is the first IPCC report to state clearly that CDR is needed to achieve our climate targets. CDR is actively removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Achieving net zero will involve CDR because even if we make great progress on reducing emissions, some industries will likely still be emitting some greenhouse gases in 2050.
But, as Dr Jo House, IPCC Chapter 7 lead author and member of CO2RE, notes: “Reducing emissions and ramping up removals is not an either/or: the IPCC scenarios with CDR also include severe and rapid emission reductions.”
There is an increasing number of CDR options which are covered in the scenarios put forward.
“Reducing emissions and ramping up removals is not an either/or” – Dr Jo House, IPCC lead author and member of CO2RE
“The report shows there are many ways to remove carbon,” says CO2RE Executive Director Dr Steve Smith. “From tree planting and soil restoration to capturing and storing CO2 from bioenergy facilities, and even direct air capture machines – just like there are many ways to cut emissions.”
Some of these methods are being investigated by the Demonstrator projects that are working closely with CO2RE.
We know we need it, but how do we get CDR right?
There is a lot to do – CDR techniques are at an early-stage and require vision, investment and regulation to ensure they can scale up rapidly and responsibly.
As Dr Jo House explains: “Large-scale CDR from technical solutions are still expensive and some years away, so investment and action is needed rapidly in all emission reduction as well as CDR if we are to be able to avoid the worst climate devastation.”
“Society needs to be a part of the conversation on which (CDR) approaches to take forward, how to incentivise them if they are taken forward, and ultimately how to govern them” – Dr Rob Bellamy, CO2RE
Dr Isabela Butnar, who leads our work on CDR evaluation at CO2RE, adds that we need ways to track effective deployment: “Transparent monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) will be key for prioritising and scaling up CDRs which can be deployed sustainably.”
And because CDRs have not been tested at large scale and face different challenges and opportunities, we need an approach that includes a range of different CDR methods to assess which might be best in different contexts.
A key aspect of figuring this out in a responsible way is involving wider society in decision making, which is central to our approach at CO2RE.
As Dr Rob Bellamy, lead on responsible innovation and societal engagement at CO2RE points out, “CDRs are sociotechnical systems – you have the bits of kit, but they will simply not work without people, procedures, policies, governance and so on. Society needs to be a part of the conversation on which approaches to take forward, how to incentivise them if they are taken forward, and ultimately how to govern them.”
Overall, we need to be looking at CDR in real world contexts. At CO2RE, we’re researching the environmental, economic, social, cultural, ethical, legal and governance issues around CDR.
The IPCC report shows that CDR is now in the policy mix and is starting to happen. The debate is no longer about whether or not to do it, but which methods, where, how much, and how to ensure it is done well.
Find out more about Greenhouse Gas Removal.