Shifting from if to how

Overview

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.

How much do we need to remove? IPCC scenarios suggest between 5 and 15 billion tonnes a year by 2050. And if natural carbon sinks start to become sources –because of wildfires, droughts, or melting permafrost – these numbers will be even higher. In its recent work on carbon removals, the Energy Transitions Commission estimates that around 200 billion tonnes of CO2 will need to be removed cumulatively between now and 2050. 

At present, we remove around 3 million tonnes a year – mostly through reforestation – so scale up needs to start now. Tree-planting will remain part of the solution. But given land-use constraints and the need for permanent solutions, we’ll need to deploy new, innovative methods for removing and safely storing atmospheric CO2.

The UN Climate Champions have set a ‘tipping point’ target to remove 100 Mt of CO2 from the air annually by 2030. That may sound small, but we need exponential growth – doubling levels every two years – to reach 100 Mt and scale from there. 

Lots of entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists are working on carbon removal, but these technologies are nascent. We need to invest in scaling them over the next decade, so they’re capable of removing billions of tonnes of CO2 through the 2030s and 2040s. And at that scale, we really need to make sure that carbon removals are done right. 

It’s no longer about if we should do removals – it’s about how.

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