UN climate report: Carbon removal now ‘a necessity’

Rapid emissions reductions require a dizzying transition to new technologies as well as a drastic reduction in energy demand. Zeke Hausfather, contributor to a previous working group for the latest UN climate report and climate research team leader at Stripe.

Easing the target to 2 ˚C would essentially provide an extra decade to halve climate pollution, to 29 billion tonnes of emissions by 2040.

Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct, a research and investment firm focused on carbon removal, said the speed and scale of cuts needed in both cases is simply unrealistic. “Countries will need to do a ‘very large’ level of decarbonisation,” he said.

Crucial problems: The world is already emitting too much. We haven’t done nearly enough to shift to cleaner ways of running the economy. And we still don’t have readily available and affordable ways to fix certain industries and products, like aviation, shipping, fertilizers, cement and steel.

The promise of decarbonization is that it can give countries more time to transition to sustainable practices and balance ongoing emissions from sources we don’t know how to replace. .

But …

2. We will need to do a lot

Preventing the planet from warming to 2 ˚C or pulling the climate back from there could require billions of tons of carbon dioxide reduction each year.

Models that limit warming to 2 ˚C are based on three main methods of carbon removal: tree planting, reforestation and similar land management practices, and development and deployment of carbon absorbers. and rely on plants to produce energy while capturing emissions, is called BECCS. Together, they will need to remove 17 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2050 and 35 billion by 2100, according to the report.

3. We need a list of carbon removal options

The report highlights that different approaches to decarbonization have very different benefits and challenges.

For example, nature-based approaches such as tree planting and reforestation are the most widely deployed today. But carbon can go back into the atmosphere when plants die or burn in a fire. So these solutions are likely to be shorter-lived than other methods such as geological storage, which help lock carbon underground.

The report notes that direct gas capture can remove and permanently store carbon, but these machines are currently limited in scale and expensive, and the technology consumes large amounts of energy. and water, the report noted.

The IPCC reporting models are largely based on BECCS, which is a combination of nature-based and technology-based approaches, with several benefits of each. However, BECCS requires large amounts of land that can compete with the needs of food production, among other challenges.

The report notes a variety of ways to capture carbon dioxide, including ocean-based approaches such as using minerals to increase alkalinity of sea water. But these are largely untested.

4. Scaling will require funding and policy decisions

The climate panel’s authors stress that achieving high levels of carbon removal will require extensive research and development to identify the most effective methods, minimize environmental impact, and develop rapidly. large projects in the real world.

Frances Wang, program director at the ClimateWorks Foundation, which funds research efforts to eliminate carbon, wrote in a response to the MIT Technology Review: “We need all of us to come together to explore a wide range of option to perform both deep decarbonization and carbon dioxide removal. investigation.

The biggest barrier to building a large carbon-removal industry could be cost. Who will pay the hundreds of billions to the trillions of dollars it will run to remove this much carbon dioxide year after year?

The report says that accelerating research and development on decarbonization — and getting businesses to actually do it — will require a “political commitment” from governments. That means enacting policies to mandate or encourage decarbonisation, as well as methods to ensure that practices achieve the claimed climate benefits.

If history is any guide, the grim findings of a new IPCC report won’t change anything entirely. The world is emitting about 6 billion more tons of emissions annually than when the last critical assessment was published, in 2014. But more work is being done on carbon removal due to the importance of the role. climate change is becoming more and more obvious. .

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