Join us in rethinking carbon removals

Overview

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.

There are two reasons we need carbon removals. The first is that we can’t now do reductions fast enough – we have left it too late. Scenarios from the Energy Transition Commission, the IPCC and the International Energy Agency all show that even if we reduce emissions as fast as possible – which, just to be clear, we must do – to have a fighting chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees we will also have to take billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the air in the next few decades. We’re going to need both reductions and removals.

But there’s another, more heartening reason why we need removals: they give us a chance not just to stop the problem getting worse but to start making it better. Even 1.5 degrees isn’t actually safe. We haven’t got there yet and we’re already seeing the effects of climate warming in fires, floods, storms and droughts. With carbon removals we can pull our historical emissions back out of the sky, clean up the mess we’ve made, and start to reverse climate change.

There are four major challenges with getting carbon removals right: 1) the moral hazard – the very reasonable fear that giving attention to removals might take attention away from reductions 2) the need for removals to address climate inequity and drive a just transition 3) the importance of durability – it matters how long stored carbon stays stored and 4) how to drive finance towards carbon removals and get them to scale.

These challenges mean that, rather than working urgently to ensure that removals approaches are truly additive and effective, and ready to be scaled to the level we will need, many people simply look away – leaving the field more open for misuse. To add to the challenge, the removals ecosystem itself is fragmented and poorly aligned.

As a consequence, most governments and companies do not have credible plans and timelines for implementing a removals strategy – in parallel with their reductions strategy — and those that are developing targets face muddled options for accounting for different types of removals clearly and robustly.

I am leading a collaboration called Rethinking Removals, in partnership with the UNFCCC High Level Champions for Climate Action. The ultimate objective is to get carbon removals on to the climate agenda and into corporate net zero greenhouse gas commitments and NDCs.

This year we are focused on fostering critical thinking and better dialogues around removals, to help change the mindset from if we should do them to how we should do them right.

I’ll be giving a TED talk at the Countdown Summit in Edinburgh next week, and we are also running a breakout session on removals there to explore ways to resolve the four main challenges. We are also collaborating with the UN High Level Champions for Climate Action to run a Futures Lab workshop on carbon removals at COP – a series highlighting questions that are not on the COP agenda but should be. 

If you want to know more, or to join the dialogue, please drop me a line on LinkedIn, or send an email to info@valencesolutions.org

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

Six areas for action on carbon removals

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

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.

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?