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. The Energy Transitions Commission estimates that translates to around 200 billion tonnes of CO2 that will need to be removed cumulatively between now and 2050.
At present, we remove around 5 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 breakthrough target of over 3 Gt of carbon removals annually by 2030, of which at least 500 Mt must be high durability. We need exponential growth – faster than we experienced with solar power – to reach this level 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.