Six areas for action on carbon removals

Overview

We know what needs to be done – now we have to do it

Climate science shows that we will have to remove substantial amounts of carbon from the air to achieve net zero and meet the Paris climate goals. The Energy Transition Commission estimates that, in addition to massive reductions of emissions in every sector, we will also need to remove a cumulative total of 70-220 billion tonnes of carbon by 2050 to reach net zero – and more after that annually to get the carbon cycle back in balance. If natural carbon sinks start to become sources in the face of a changing climate – for example because of wildfires, droughts, or melting permafrost – these numbers will be even higher.

To have any chance of reaching these numbers, we urgently need to scale up high quality removals with long durability, putting them onto an exponential growth curve. This means working towards an interim target (set independently by the UNFCCC High Level Champions and by Mission Innovation) of 100 million tonnes per year by 2030. As today we are removing only around three million tonnes per year, this will require doubling current removals capacity every 1.5-2 years, starting now.

Last year, we convened many conversations across the removals ecosystem to work out what is needed now to accelerate the scale-up of high-quality removals. We identified six interrelated areas for action:

●       Scale: ensure there is a pipeline of high-quality carbon removal projects and sufficient human capital in place in multiple locations in the global North and South to enable the exponential growth required to reach the UNFCCC target of 100 Mt per year removal capacity by 2030

●       Demand: create sufficient long-term, predictable demand for high-quality removals from corporates and governments, through buyers’ pools, long-term offtake agreements and advance purchase mechanisms

●       Policy: help key governments in both the global South and global North to identify and implement policies, incentives, regulations and targets to get high-quality removals started, demonstrating their reality to others

●       Accounting: align around principles and guidelines that define and encourage high-quality removals, setting a common foundation for more detailed work on standards and methodologies

●       Finance: facilitate mainstream financing for carbon removals by developing practical investment models and aligning these with policy and accounting pillars

●       Narrative: reframe the narrative(s) on removals to clarify language, address fault-lines such as the moral hazard, global south/global north inequity and nature/technology, and get alignment on the role of removals in decarbonisation strategies

We are now translating these into a set of focused but coordinated initiatives. If you are interested in working with us or supporting us, get in touch.

PS If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Gabrielle’s TEDTalk on carbon removals.

You may also be interested in:

Carbon removals: How to distinguish the good, the bad and the very ugly

In June, TED Countdown hosted a Dilemma Session in New York focusing on the role of carbon credits in climate action. Gabrielle Walker and Delia Meth-Cohn of Rethinking Removals joined forces with Julio Friedmann (Carbon Direct) and Eli Mitchell-Larson (Carbon Gap) to design and present a workshop on carbon removals. We were aiming to focus on understanding quality criteria such as additionality and durability - but we started by looking at why we see carbon removals as a source of hope for climate action, not as climate denial or and moral hazard.

Here, Delia takes us through the stages of that event.

Discover the Great Carbon Valley

Social entrepreneur James Mwangi tells us why Africa could be the ideal home for scaling the latest carbon removals technologies to a planetary level

Reimagining carbon removals

At COP26 we ran a UNFCCC Futures Lab on reimagining carbon removals. An amazing group of speakers described their vision of a 2050 future where removals had helped achieve net zero, brought the Global South into the heart of climate action, leveraged the best of nature and tech and complemented robust reduction pathways.

What we learnt at TED and COP

Carbon removals was not on the official agenda at COP26, but the emerging ecosystem was out in force - and collaborating ever more closely - at both COP and TED Countdown.

Your guide to carbon removals at COP26

Carbon removal is not on the official agenda at COP26, but it’s being talked about a lot around the edges. We teamed up with our friends at Carbon Removal Advocacy Europe (launching under a new name at COP!) to pull together all the side-events we could find focusing on carbon removals.

Your invitation to Futures Labs @COP26: Reimagining Carbon Removals

Imagine a future where emissions are sinking rapidly AND we are taking CO2 out of the air. We have done this to achieve net zero in an effective, affordable and equitable way. Imagine it was achieved  by the Global South and Global North working together in a systematic way that combines nature-based and engineered solutions.

Join us in rethinking carbon removals

Climate science shows unequivocally that there is a big missing piece in the efforts to achieve net zero and meet the Paris climate goals. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, we will also have to remove very substantial amounts of carbon from the air and store it somewhere safe.

Getting excited about carbon removals

In our conversation with Nigel Topping, Ugbaad Koser, Eli Mitchell-Larson and Patrick Buergi, we started thinking about all the different mindsets that are needed to pour positive energy into carbon removals.

Embracing an exponential mindset

Nigel Topping, UN High-Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, launches our conversations with a fascinating look at how carbon removals fit into climate action and what it will take to get to scale.

Shifting from if to how

The IPCC tells us we’ve got to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to have a chance of keeping 1.5 degrees alive AND we must remove substantial amounts of CO2 from the air. It’s not an either/or choice -- we need both.

Since we need removals to get to net zero, how can we do them right?

No matter how fast we go on reducing emissions, science tells us that we will need to remove carbon on a gigatonne scale to stay within 1.5°C. It's a polarizing topic, but we urgently have to agree on how to tackle this challenge.

TED Talk: Climate healing

In this TED talk, Gabrielle Walker, Director of Valence Solutions and Founder of Rethinking Removals, will explore what it will take to remove carbon from the sky - and do it permanently and at scale, until the climate starts healing.

Getting positive about carbon negative. How do we get removals right?

Carbon removals raises lots of difficult questions. It’s tempting to turn away, but this session will look the issue squarely in the eye and ask: since we need removals to get to net zero, how can we do them right?