The hype of carbon removal becomes a dangerous distraction


Some argue that governments should also create separate targets to ensure that carbon sequestration (sometimes called “negative emissions”) does not count toward emission reduction targets.

“Failure to do so has already hampered climate policy, exaggerating the expected future contribution of negative emissions to climate models, while slaughtering the scope and pace of investment needed to deliver negative emissions,” McLaren et al. Climate limits in 2019

Sweden made a version of this, setting a goal of reducing emissions by at least 85% below 1990 levels by 2045 and relying mainly on carbon sequestration to bring the rest of the road down to zero. The European Union has included a similar provision in the proposed one European Climate Act, limiting the role of carbon sequestration to 225 million tonnes, or just over 2 percentage points of the overall target: a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.

“It is now set in stone that the vast majority of EU mitigation efforts will be reduced by reducing emissions, and carbon sequestration helps to go even further.” wrote Frances Wang and Mark Preston Aragonès, both from the ClimateWorks Foundation.

Early stage and high risk

Sally Benson, a professor of energy engineering at Stanford, says the money she sees flowing into carbon-removing startups seems very similar to the situation in clean technology in the 2000s, when investment poured into technologies that were at a very early stage and high risk.

Many of these investments have not paid off, as companies developing advanced biofuels and alternative solar materials have failed in the market.

“I’m a little worried that we’re here with carbon removal technologies,” she said in an email. “Some of them who are the most mature and who are likely to succeed and make a material change, like BECCS [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage], receive much less attention compared to less mature technologies such as direct air capture and mineralization. “

But she stresses that these are likely to be key technologies in the future, and “we need to start somewhere.”

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