Now is the time for biochar as a major climate solution

by Axel Reinaud, co-founder of NetZero

Since its rediscovery in the 1990s, biochar was deemed an interesting but unproven solution to a then controversial topic: climate change.

Things have changed dramatically since 2018, and biochar has emerged as one of the only solutions actionable today to allow permanent removal of atmospheric CO2 at scale.

How did that happen in a few short years?

First, the scientific consensus was established on the carbon sequestration potential for biochar. After years of research, in particular led by the teams of Prof. Johannes Lehmann at Cornell University, and more recently by Sabine Fuss at Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, the IPCC validated biochar as a solution to fight climate change. The 2018 ‘Global Warming of 1.5 ºC’ report and the subsequent 2019 ‘Climate Change and Land’ report validated the carbon sequestration potential of biochar at 0.3–2 GtCO2e/year. Those reference reports identified biochar as one of the strongest levers for carbon removal and presented it as the only one currently mature enough to be scaled immediately.

Second, major corporates started to commit to ‘net zero’ emission targets, in the wake of the 2019 COP25 in Madrid. The private sector has put forward objectives to eliminate or offset GHG emissions by 2030-2050, depending on the companies and the industries. This massive effort will require reductions of emissions by leveraging new technologies, new sources of energy and new processes. But reductions will not be enough, and 20-50% of the scope 3 emissions will need to be offset by buying certified carbon credits. Many corporates are pledging to offset their emissions by truly removing carbon (vs avoiding emissions), creating a future exploding demand for carbon removal and sequestration.

Last, the carbon credit markets are becoming mature, and gradually identify (and pricing) the quality of carbon credit: emission reduction vs emission removal, mid-term vs long-term sequestration, simple offsets vs co-benefits, etc. In parallel, the certification organisations have started developing biochar-specific methodologies to validate the carbon credits generated. The first biochar credits were issued in 2020 by Puro, and Verra/VCS will have a methodology developed by 2021.

All in all, biochar is at the dawn of a new era. It is recognised by the scientific consensus, its carbon-removal capabilities are valued by markets, and there will soon be a strict certification process for the carbon credits generated.

Now is the time for biochar to have a true impact, at scale.

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