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Carbon removal markets must grow exponentially by 2030 to keep 1.5C alive, report warns

21 March, 2022

Natural and engineered emissions removal systems will need to scale up to enable 3.5 billion tonnes of removals annually by 2030, to give the world the best chance of limiting the global temperature increase below 1.5C.

That is the headline conclusion of a new report from the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) think-tank, published in March 2022. The report argues that, even if “deep” decarbonisation is achieved, the world will need to rapidly expand its carbon dioxide removal capacity by investing in a mix of nature-based, engineered, and hybrid solutions.

“No single carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solution can be deployed in significant enough volumes to deliver the emissions removals required, and each entails different costs and risks,” the report states. “A portfolio approach is therefore required, with solutions playing vital and complementary roles.”

The report outlines how, even if the “fastest feasible path of emissions reductions” was delivered, at least 70 billion tonnes of carbon removals will likely be needed between 2022 and 2050 to help ‘net’ residual emissions and to begin pushing climate tipping points back. But the ETC estimates that, on the current path of emissions reductions accounted for by national commitments, at least 165 billion tonnes of carbon removals will likely be needed – cumulatively – by mid-century. For context, the current voluntary carbon market is believed to be delivering just 10 million tonnes of removals annually.

Who Pays?

Nonetheless, the ETC is warning that delivering the requisite 3.5 billion tonnes of removals annually by 2030 could require an investment of $200bn or more each year. By 2050, the cumulative need for investment will likely reach $15trn. The report outlines how several key carbon dioxide removal technologies will likely remain far more expensive to deliver than emissions reductions projects in the coming decades. It repeatedly emphasizes how removals must be delivered alongside deep emissions cuts, rather than as an alternative.

Given these high costs, the report calls on corporates to take an in-depth look at their carbon offsetting strategies and – where possible – to support emerging engineered solutions in the longer term as well as nature-based solutions in the near term. Emerging solutions discussed in the report include direct air capture, in which CO2e is sucked out of the air using fan technologies, and enhanced weathering, which involves making oceans more alkaline so they can sequester more CO2e. Companies that are backing emerging removal technologies include Grosvenor, Microsoft, Swiss RE, Ocado, Audi, Boston Consulting Group, Square and Stripe.

The ETC report warns that, without greater private sector investment, only one-third of the removals capacity needed will be delivered by 2030. The role of governments, the report states, must go beyond providing public funding to help crowd in private investments. It outlines how nations can use mandated emissions trading schemes to complement voluntary carbon markets; set up regulators for voluntary carbon market monitoring, and set minimum standards to make best-practice the norm.

Carbon capture context

In August 2021, the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, chaired by Sir David King, issued a report urging increased investment in carbon removal. That report argued that net-zero by 2050 will not be enough to cap the temperature increase at levels that would ensure a liveable future for the global population; thus, removals are needed to deliver a net-negative emissions future. The Group, like the ETC, sees a mix of nature-based, man-made and hybrid solutions playing a role.


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