Climate Action

5 ways to remove carbon and tackle the climate crisis

Carbon removal is increasingly viewed as a key step on the road to achieving net zero by 2050.

Carbon removal is increasingly viewed as a key step on the road to achieving net zero by 2050. Image: Unsplash/Joseph Barrientos

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Carbon removal is increasingly viewed as a key step on the road to achieving net zero by 2050.
  • Using trees, soil, farming techniques, the ocean and direct air capture can all reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help achieve climate goals.
  • Many World Economic Forum partners and technology pioneers are working in this space, including Climeworks.

Carbon emissions are driving the climate crisis, so we have a choice – we either reduce the amount of carbon we emit down to zero or we remove carbon from the atmosphere.

To get to net zero, in the quickest way possible, we need to do both.

Carbon removal is increasingly viewed as a key step on the road to achieving net zero by 2050. Experts say that simply reducing CO2 emissions will not get the world to that target – without carbon removal, net zero is practically impossible.

So how does it work?

This is where the terminology gets a bit complicated. Carbon removal is not a catch-all. It refers to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while carbon capture and use or storage (CCUS) captures carbon from burning fossil fuels, which doesn’t directly reduce atmospheric carbon levels.

Carbon removal can either happen via nature-based solutions or tech-based solutions – or a combination of both.
Carbon removal can either happen via nature-based solutions or tech-based solutions – or a combination of both. Image: American University

How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

Carbon removal can either happen via nature-based solutions or tech-based solutions – or a combination of both. Here are some examples:

Afforestation and reforestation

The clue is in the name with this one. And the answer is trees: planting new ones – afforestation – or restoring and managing existing forests – reforestation.

The World Economic Forum’s Uplink initiative challenged ecopreneurial start-ups to provide innovative and scalable solutions for sustainable forest management and wood products, with the winners including Fairventures Social Forestry, which works with local communities to establish agroforestry plantations on degraded areas.

Figure illustrating the tree restoration approaches for carbon removal.
Trees as a way to capture carbon. Image: World Resources Institute

2. Farming and soil sequestration

Farming techniques like no-till farming, cover cropping and agroforestry can be used to help enhance the carbon content in soil, which locks carbon away from the atmosphere.

SandX and CarboSoil are two Uplink innovator companies that seek to enhance soil fertility for the long term and support the goals of the Saudi Green Initiative of rehabilitating and reforesting throughout the Middle East.

3. Ocean-based removal and blue carbon ecosystems

Promoting the uptake of carbon dioxide by marine ecosystems and organisms, as well as conserving and restoring coastal ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes, all fall under this heading. So does restoring and conserving wetlands, which are highly effective at sequestering carbon.

Blue carbon – carbon stored in aquatic ecosystems – can store as much as five times as much carbon per square foot as land-based ecosystems.

As well as using ecosystems like these as a natural sink, ways of enhancing carbon removal with technology are also under discussion, like mechanical and chemical ocean carbon dioxide removal.

Seawater carbon extraction, or electrochemical carbon dioxide removal (CDR), is one of the main ways. It aims to remove the carbon dioxide in ocean water and store it elsewhere, like the ocean form of direct air capture and storage.

4. Direct air capture (DAC)

Processes and approaches that remove carbon dioxide from the air come under this category and are often expensive and technologically difficult to scale. These technologies extract carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere so that it can be permanently stored or used for other applications.

Many countries and regions are advancing DAC technologies, including the US – which announced new funding in 2022 under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – the EU, the UK, Japan and Canada.

Climeworks, Carbon Capture and Carbon Engineering are three companies currently working on direct air capture.

5. Carbon mineralization

This one is nature-based – occurring when carbon dioxide becomes a solid mineral, for example when certain rocks are exposed to carbon dioxide. While that’s something that happens slowly over time naturally, scientists are working on speeding the process up so that more carbon dioxide can be removed and permanently stored in this way.

Graph illustrating the capacity of CCS facilities.
Carbon capture and storage projects are on the rise. Image: Global CCS Institute

Challenges with carbon removal

These are some of the ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and help get us on track for net-zero emissions. Even so, many challenges remain.

“Carbon dioxide removal at a climate-significant scale is one of the most complex endeavours we can imagine,” say Holly Jean Buck and Roger Deane Aines, authors of CDR Primer. It requires “interlocking technologies, social systems, economies, transportation systems, agricultural systems, and, of course, the political economy required to fund it”.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Climate ActionNature and Biodiversity
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