Making the Case for Carbon Removal

The turn of the last century brought about an unforeseen transformation: humanity began to release colossal amounts of CO2, predominantly through fossil fuel combustion and modifications in land use. Surprisingly, about 55% of this total has been absorbed by natural carbon sinks found in our lands and oceans, with the surplus gradually augmenting atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Based on findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this influx of CO2 and other greenhouse gases has nudged Earth's mean temperature upwards by more than 1°C compared to pre-industrial times. This thermal shift is triggering vast alterations in our global climate, leading to serious repercussions for people around the world.

The struggle against the looming climate crisis calls for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The quest for climate stabilization begins with decarbonization, a monumental yet indispensable step. However, our knowledge has evolved, and we've recognized that merely reducing emissions won't be enough. Implementations that enable the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere will be imperative and must be established at an extensive scale within this century to keep global warming from reaching alarming levels.Given this troubling scenario, many nations, along with civil society groups and scientists, have underscored the urgency of devising strategies and technologies that principally aim at significantly curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.

Only upon achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions will the progression of global warming halt. Reaching this balance of zero net emissions would necessitate broad-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to counterbalance residual emission sources, often dubbed as "hard-to-avoid emissions". These are emissions that are particularly challenging to mitigate due to physical and social justice constraints. Even assuming swift global decarbonization where only these hard-to-avoid emissions remain, restraining global warming to below 1.5° C would demand the extraction of gigatons of atmospheric CO2 annually by the end of this century. This is a tremendous challenge that we need to prepare for.

*Our writing here and several figures are taken directly from the CDR Primer which reflects the consensus of dozens of industry experts.


  • ~1.5°C
  • ~2°C
  • ~3°C

Gigatons – the scale needed

To stave off the most severe impacts of climate change, it is estimated that we will need to remove between 5 and 10 billion tons of CO2 annually from our atmosphere by 2050. It means that simply reducing emissions isn't sufficient anymore. We have to permanently eliminate gigatons of carbon dioxide that's already in the atmosphere and in the ocean.

Although certain carbon capture methods are widely used and effective for shorter time frames, like tree planting or sequestering carbon in the soil, these strategies alone likely cannot be scaled to meet the magnitude of the issue.

While the field of carbon removal has seen notable advancements in recent years, it is still not remotely on track to reach the necessary scale. As per data available till 2021, less than 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide had been permanently removed from the atmosphere using novel technologies—a staggering one million times below the required annual scale.

Not enough space on Earth to plant trees

Many companies have promised to offset their carbon emissions by growing new forests. Data on available land suggests they may need an alternative strategy as companies have promised to plant more trees by 2050 than there is available space. Analysis of more than 6,500 businesses reveals that their climate commitments for the next quarter of a century would require up to 380 million hectares of land, an area larger than India.

Research suggests that there is only about 350 million hectares of land in the world that could be used for new forest growth. Combined with pledges by countries to plant new forests, the total land needed for every scheme is more than double that limit, according to new data shared with The Times by theanalytics company Trove Research.

Solutions for carbon removal that do not compete for arable land are required to scale up carbon removal.

Removing Carbon does not mean we have a free pass to create new emissions.

Why does the battle against global warming require carbon removal?

Let's dive into the topics of unavoidable and historic emissions.

Firstly, the crucial action any of us can undertake to halt global warming is minimizing our carbon footprint. Drawing on data from the IPCC and the Science Based Targets initiative, there's a need to slash our CO₂ emissions by at least 90% by 2050. Yet, a residual 10% of inescapable emissions will persist. It's here that carbon removal plays a pivotal role – it's vital to offset these emissions and restrict global warming to under 1.5°C.

Furthermore, we must address the issue of CO₂ emissions that have already been discharged into the atmosphere, otherwise known as past emissions. Billions of tons of this historical CO₂ saturate our atmosphere and need to be eradicated to progress beyond carbon neutrality and towards net-negative emissions – that is, the state of withdrawing more CO₂ than we emit. The sole method of realizing this goal and thereby re-establishing equilibrium in our climate is through carbon extraction.

Beyond the domains of inescapable and past emissions, carbon extraction serves a fundamental protective function in our struggle against climate change. In the event of a temporary surge in temperature exceeding 1.5°C, additional carbon extraction could aid in lowering the temperature back to acceptable levels.


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