Ashleigh Arton

Apr 8, 2024

Photo of smokestack by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

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Ashleigh was the Carbon Dioxide Removals Lead for the UN Climate Change High Level Champions team for COP26 and COP27. As CDR lead she launched the Race to Zero’s CDR 2030 Breakthrough, co-founded Carbon Removals at COP ( and worked alongside the Marrakech Partnership to increase international ambition and action towards just and effective carbon removals at the giga tonne scale. Ashleigh has a MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management from the University of Oxford and has more than 8 years of experience in biodiversity conservation, climate change and sustainability. 

*All thoughts expressed here are her own and do not reflect those of her affiliated organisations.


How did you first come across GGR? And what was your initial reaction? 

Honestly, the first time I heard of removals was when I was seconded into the CDR team at the UN High Level Climate Champions. Now that CDR/GGR is part and parcel of my job and brought me many wonderful friends, this feels like a lesson in saying ‘yes’ when an opportunity is presented to you (and also that you don’t need to tick all the boxes on the job description). 

I spent a lot of time upskilling myself. The first thing that struck me was how clear the science is. The scale of the ‘carbon gap’ (i.e. how much we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions versus how much we can conceivably reduce emissions) and the fact that it is billions of tons, fired me up. 

The second thing I was struck by was the variety and the ingenuity of the sector. Every region on the planet has something to offer for GGR and there are dozens of solutions to be applied in these contexts. Are you a coastal nation? Let’s restore those mangroves and seagrass meadows (with the added benefit of resilience, biodiversity and food security). Have lots of agricultural land? Jumpstart the circular economy with some biochar and throw in some enhanced rock weathering to support food production. If you have plenty of tropical forests, it goes without saying that reforestations should be your first port of call. Cities? Get that net negative built environment up and running with some concrete that removes CO2 or use net negative timber. And even when it seems like you don’t have much to offer, look underground; Iceland’s geothermal renewable energy, coupled with its geomorphology has made it the perfect place for Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS). 

Taken together, my first reaction was surprise. How did I not know about this before? And why didn’t more people know about this? Luckily this is starting to change and the more people who get involved in the sector, the more resourceful solutions come into play, the more excited I am. 


Who inspired you when you were looking to get into the industry?

My manager at the Climate Champions Team, Alex Joss, did an excellent job of getting me up to pace right before COP26 and then an even better job of inspiring me enough that I took up the mantle of CDR Lead for the Champions. His attention to detail and clear-eyed focus on building the narrative and articulating the need for removals was invaluable to get internal buy-in and ultimately build the narrative for our Marrakech Partnership events and beyond.

The GGR community itself is incredibly inspiring. I have found there are few industries as collaborative and willing to share their learnings as ours. The feeling is that one group’s success is the whole industry’s success and so there is a real feeling of camaraderie which inspires me every day. 

There are many wonderful, inspiring folks in GGR but I will mention Gabrielle Walker and James Mwangi as some of the first thought-leaders who truly captured my imagination upfront as well as the strategic moves by Nan Ransohoff, Stacy Kauk and Lucas Joppa.  


What aspect within your role now is motivating you?

The bold moves by indigenous peoples and those in the Global South.

For many years, GGR has been touted as a Global North phenomenon (it’s expensive and it’s up to the North to clean up its mess, right?), but this comes with the risk of the GGR sector not achieving the scale it needs as well as missing the opportunity for a just transition. The emergence of groups such ‘Building Tribal Leadership in Carbon Removal’, and the ‘Indigenous Greenhouse Gas Removal Coalition’,  show that, not only did indigenous peoples come up with some of the best GGR methods in the first place (i.e. biochar) but are actively engaging in the sectors development. 

Furthermore we have the CDR Pledge, taken at COP28 by Ghana, Kenya, Oman and Columbia alongside the newly formed ’Carbon Removal India Alliance’,  the DACCS projects in Kenya and 30+ other GGr projects in the Global South. These are all tangible examples of how the Global South is leading the way and how GGR can be a key element of the just transition – providing new jobs, livelihoods, skills. To quote James Mwangi they are not ‘climate victims but climate vanguards’. 


Where do you see the biggest gaps and need for further resources?

The CDR 2030 Breakthrough (launched at COP27) does a really good job of identifying what needs doing, by whom and by when across supply, demand, finance, policy and civil society. I won’t be the first person to say it, but it really is everything, everywhere, all at once. We are building a whole system and each of these pieces prop each other up. They are all parts of the ‘ambition loop’ – a positive feedback mechanism whereby, for example, ambition and pressure from civil society encourages business to become more ambitious which provides confidence to governments to set ambitious policies in place and so on and so forth.   

Having said all of that, one thing that I do see as missing in the GGR space is better integration of GGR across the wider climate action agendas. From mitigation, adaptation, resilience and the nature agenda, we would do well to focus on what GGR brings. Removals sit at the nexus of all these activities. If we move from seeing removals as a core benefit to co-benefit, we can encourage greater uptake. We will still need robust monitoring, reporting and verification as well as all the other enabling conditions to scale the sector but a perspective shift could go a long way. For example, encouraging regenerative agriculture and biochar use as a means to reduce the need for carbon intensive fertilisers, encourage biodiversity and improve resilience to drought and flooding. 


What advice would you give someone looking to get into GGR?

People may have come across the Japanese concept of ikigai (‘reason for being’). We can get philosophical about this and have a whole lot of fun with Eudaimonic well-being but practically one’s ikigai can be found in the centre of a venn diagram of ‘what you love’, ‘what you are good at’, ‘what the world needs’ and ‘what you can be paid for’. 

My advice would be to build your own GGR ikigai. First and foremost, upskill yourself. Read everything you can get your hands on about GGR and follow the rabbit holes that interest you. Get to grips with ‘what the GGR sector needs’. Now combine your new-found understanding with the skills and experiences you bring (are you great at research, communications, convening?). Think deeply about what you love and what will bring you joy and then jump into the job-postings to identify what you can get paid for. Or better yet, identify how you can integrate GGR into your current work. 

If this ancient Japanese concept is correct then you should be able to positively contribute to the GGR sector, and hopefully find purpose and happiness in the process. 

On a more practical note Carbon180 regularly posts GGR job listings and the Open Air Collective is a great way to meet people in the community and dip your toes in the sector before gleefully finding your GGR ikigai.


Can you describe your 2050 vision for GGR?

Get ready for a little slice of utopian ‘carbon punk’ and ‘stubborn optimism’. In 2050, GGR is integrated into how we live and everything we do but in such a way that one does not even notice it. Our homes are made from carbon negative materials, our furniture from high durability wood products. Our food is grown in farms where biochar and enhanced rock weathering are staple inputs. What little food (and other biomass) we do waste is further incorporated in Biomass Carbon Removals Solutions (BiCRS) to remove further greenhouse gases. Our cities are predicated upon green infrastructure that not only cleans the air, purifies water, reduces flood risk etc but actively removes additional CO2 from the atmosphere. All of this has been underpinned by robust GGR policies that have supported and funded domestic GGR capacity and created synergies between the different aspects of climate action from the nature agenda and clear decarbonisation pathways to building resilience. 

But don’t settle for just my version, explore the world imagined by true CDR visionaries during the CDR FutureLab at COP26 where Kim Stanley Robinson (author of the Ministry for the Future), James Mwangi (Great Carbon Valley), Julio Friedman (a.k.a ‘the carbon wrangler’), Kumi Naidoo (Amnesty International and Greenpeace), Nili Gilbert (Rockefeller fund) describe their ideal 2050 future. 

My vision (and those of the above) is deliberately utopian. It is the stories that we tell ourselves that create our self-fulfilling prophecies. Or to quote Ford; ‘“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re usually right”. When we repeat, based on our Nationally Determined Contributions, that we are on track for a >2°C degree world, we are using linear extrapolation without realising the incredible leaps and bounds we have made in recent years. For example, in 2015 the International Energy Agency estimated that solar power would be at 50GW capacity by 2020. In reality, we were at more than 200GW. Change happens faster than we think. I like to choose the positive prophecy and then watch it unfold before my eyes.