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The importance of carbon removal technologies

by Olivier Reinaud, co-founder of NetZero

Technological solutions for long-term carbon removal have long been called leniencies — a way for companies to offset their emissions while continuing to do business as usual. A much preferable solution, indeed, is for companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at the source. But doing so is not always possible, and carbon removal technologies thus have a crucial role to play in the race to net-zero emissions. Here is why:

Reason #1. We cannot predict the speed at which we will be able to reduce emissions by transitioning to low-carbon value chains, especially in developing countries. Therefore, there is no guarantee we will reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and thus stay below the +1.5°C threshold set by the IPCC.

Reason #2. A significant share of emissions is unavoidable in the short and medium term, due to extremely high investment costs or the lack of technological alternatives. In particular, there are no sustainable alternatives currently available for the cement, iron and steel industries, which together account for 10+% of human CO2 emissions.

Reason #3. The Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi), the world’s reference standard for net-zero businesses, has made it clear that unavoidable emissions should only be offset with long-term carbon removals. Traditional emission-avoidance schemes (e.g. REDD+ projects) shall not be used as offsets as they do not cancel out emissions.

Reason #4. Planting trees will be insufficient to capture all the excess CO2. Trees are a great nature-based solution, but they cannot be planted everywhere, and land competition for other uses (such as agriculture) makes it difficult to deploy them in currently uncovered areas. Additionally, trees are a ‘temporary’ removal solution — forests can be destroyed by fires, storms, diseases or human deforestation, and wood use cannot be tracked after cutting.

Therefore, we will not be able to reach net-zero emissions in time without the help of long-term carbo removal technologies. These technologies include biochar, BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage) and DAC (direct air capture). It will be necessary to leverage all of them to meet the Paris Agreement target.

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