Climate Change

Carbon removals are critical to reaching net zero. Here's how to accelerate them sustainably 

Ahead of COP28, we asked experts why carbon removals will be crucial to reaching net zero – and why we need to invest in them now.

Ahead of COP28, we asked experts why carbon removals will be crucial to reaching net zero – and why we need to invest in them now. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Ross McKenzie
Group Director, Corporate Affairs, Drax Group
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • The world is not on track to meet the climate targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.
  • We need to dramatically reduce emissions and begin removing carbon from the atmosphere in a sustainable and scalable way.
  • Ahead of COP28, we asked experts why carbon removals will be crucial to reaching net zero – and why we need to invest in them now.

It's now clear that the climate effort will require carbon removals. On the current path, even if all emissions are stopped tomorrow, historic carbon in the world’s atmosphere will still be at dangerously high levels. And they will be needed in significant volumes – in their Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly stated that to limit warming to 1.5C, carbon removals will be needed on a gigaton scale.

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“Carbon removals will be needed, and the sooner the better. We need them to compensate for historical CO2 emissions and we also need them to compensate for emissions that cannot be abated,” said Kristin Jordal, Zero Emissions Platform & Chief Scientist at SINTEF.

But to realize the scale of removals demanded and ensure their sustainability, the proper foundations must first be put in place, including a well-functioning and standardized carbon market. The Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) is still in its fledging stages, and will need investment, robust standards and strict oversight. It will also need to scale thirty-fold to see removals at the volume needed to limit warming to 1.5°C. Many leading organizations around the world are already spearheading the effort through organizations like the First Movers Coalition.

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This is an immense task and there’s no silver bullet – it requires every solution available and for them to be scaled at unprecedented rates around the world. That means accelerating investment in both nature-based and engineered carbon removal solutions. These removals will be required to neutralize hard to abate emissions as societies move closer to net zero as well as to remove historic carbon excess from the atmosphere.

Accelerating investment in carbon removal

The urgency to act has also created opportunity – the global carbon removals market has the potential to grow into a multi-trillion-dollar industry, a value that could exceed the market capitalization of the oil and gas industry.

“The carbon dioxide removal market today is tiny, but we know that it will have to grow drastically by 2050 to meet climate objectives. And therefore, the opportunity for investors and start-ups and entrepreneurs in this space is huge,” said Chris Sherwood, Secretary General, Negative Emissions Platform.

Businesses are uniquely positioned to capture this opportunity and serve as early actors in investing in the carbon market. The investment in the market that happens today will help ensure the technologies we need in place tomorrow are available to remove carbon at scale.

Significant initiatives are being put in place to implement the high standards and good governance that are needed to effectively scale the market for carbon removals credits. The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Markets (ICVCM) is a prime example of this, serving as an independent governance body for the VCM. Initiatives like the ICVCM as well as robust international policy on the certification of carbon removals will be pivotal in accelerating the responsible deployment of removals successfully.

These standards will be critical to driving investment which is needed to scale new technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). There is a growing demand for high-integrity, permanent removals from engineered solutions like BECCS.

“BECCS is the only carbon dioxide removal technology which in addition to having high CO2 removal potential – according to IPCC up to 11 gigaton by 2050 – can also produce renewable power heat as well as biofuels,” said Nasim Pour, Carbon Removals Lead, World Economic Forum’s First Movers Coalition.

BECCS produces renewable, reliable power while removing carbon from the atmosphere. It is also a scalable technology that can be deployed rapidly and is affordable compared with many other permanent removal solutions.

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COP28 as a catalyst for action

This work can only be done through collaboration between businesses, governments, the public sector and third sector. COP28 is an important forum for these discussions, presenting an opportunity for global cross-sector climate leaders, policy-makers and delegates to come together and chart a course of action on these challenging and multifaced issues.

As plans are made for COP28, attendees must recognize that the world is no longer looking ahead towards the future potential of a climate crisis. The climate crisis has arrived and what we do to act now, in this decade, will steer the trajectory of our future on this planet. As a society, we have an opportunity now to deliver carbon removals solutions that can potentially help us mitigate some of the worst scenarios – let's not let it pass us by.

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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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