Removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere will be key to limiting global warming
To limit the impacts of climate change, we will need to cut back drastically on global emissions of CO2. Yet that alone won’t be enough. We’ll also need to remove vast quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, stresses an international team of scientists in a new report.
“To limit warming to 2°C or lower, we need to accelerate emissions reductions,” says Steve Smith, an expert on carbon removal at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. “[However] we also need to increase carbon removal by restoring and enhancing ecosystems and rapidly scaling up new CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) methods.”
Most current carbon removal relies on such conventional removal methods as planting trees and managing soils. While these will need to be accelerated worldwide, we will also need other techniques to remove even more CO2 from the atmosphere, according to the authors of the report.
“Many new methods are emerging with potential. Rather than focusing on one or two options we should encourage a portfolio so that we get to net zero quickly without over-relying on any one method,” Smith explains.
The adoption and scaling up of new methods will be key to enabling the 120-plus governments with net-zero emissions targets to reach those goals by mid-century. However, few of these governments currently have plans in place to boost CDR capacity, the scientists note.
“Virtually all pathways to limiting temperature rise require new CDR technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), biochar, enhanced rock weathering and direct air capture with carbon capture and storage (DACCS),” they explain in a statement on their findings.
“Currently, these make up only a tiny fraction of current CDR: approximately 0.1%. But if the CDR gap is to be closed, there needs to be rapid growth of these new CDR technologies — by a factor of 1,300 on average by 2050,” they add.
It is only when fast-paced innovation in CDR technologies is combined with drastic cuts in emissions that we have a chance of mitigating the worst effects of climate change through keeping warming at managable levels, the experts argue.
“Innovation in CDR has expanded dramatically in the past two years,” says Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs. “Given the orders of magnitude the CDR industry needs to grow by mid-century to limit warming, there is an urgent need for comprehensive policy support to spur growth.”