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How Carbon Dioxide Removal is Critical to a Net-Zero Future

04.02.24 | Blog | By:

A waterfall chart showing GHG reductions in a net-zero scenario and the important role that carbon dioxide removals will play in all least-cost pathways consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meeting the Paris Agreement temperature goals and avoiding the worst consequences of a warming world requires first and foremost emission reductions, but also the ongoing direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

We’ve partnered with Carbon Streaming to take a deep look at carbon dioxide removal methods, and the role that they could play in a net-zero future.

What is Carbon Dioxide Removal?

Carbon Dioxide Removal, or CDR, is the direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and its durable storage in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products.

And according to the UN Environment Programme, all least-cost pathways to net zero that are consistent with the Paris Agreement have some role for CDR. In a 1.5°C scenario, in addition to emissions reductions, CDR will need to pull an estimated 3.8 GtCO2e p.a. out of the atmosphere by 2035 and 9.2 GtCO2e p.a. by 2050.

The ‘net’ in net zero is an important quantifier here, because there will be some sectors that can’t decarbonize, especially in the near term. This includes things like shipping and concrete production, where there are limited commercially viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Not All CDR is Created Equal

There are a whole host of proposed ways for removing CO2 from the atmosphere at scale, which can be divided into land-based and novel methods, and each with their own pros and cons.

Land-based methods, like afforestation and reforestation and soil carbon sequestration, tend to be the cheapest options, but don’t tend to store the carbon for very long—just decades to centuries.

In fact, afforestation and reforestation—basically planting lots of trees—is already being done around the world and in 2020, was responsible for removing around 2 GtCO2e. And while it is tempting to think that we can plant our way out of climate change, think that the U.S. would need to plant a forest the size of New Mexico every year to cancel out their emissions.

On the other hand, novel methods like enhanced weathering and direct air carbon capture and storage, because they store carbon in minerals and geological reservoirs, can keep carbon sequestered for tens of thousand years or longer. The trade off is that these methods can be very expensive—between $100-500 and north of $800 per metric ton.

CDR Has a Critical Role to Play

In the end, there is no silver bullet, and given that 2023 was the hottest year on record—1.45°C above pre-industrial levels—it’s likely that many different CDR methods will end up playing a part, depending on local circumstances.

And not just in the drive to net zero, but also in the years after 2050, as we begin to stabilize global average temperatures and gradually return them to pre-industrial norms.

Carbon Streaming uses carbon credit streams to finance CDR projects, such as reforestation and biochar, to accelerate a net-zero future.

Originally published by Visual Capitalist at this link

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