Professor Gregory Nemet, the La Follette School’s expert on technological responses to climate change, helped lead a landmark report released last month on the current state of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in ongoing efforts to limit global warming.
Nemet was one of four principal authors of the inaugural State of Carbon Dioxide Removal report hosted by the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. He was joined by more than 20 experts in the field of CDR for the first-of-its-kind analysis.
According to the report, countries are not removing nearly enough carbon through CDR strategies to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with a preferred target of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“A big takeaway from this report is that there’s urgency,” Nemet says. “In addition to massively reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we need to prioritize the development of new CDR technologies and find ways to substantially increase conventional CDR to meet the Paris goals.”
CDR involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a variety of ways. Examples include reforestation, biochar, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS).
La Follette MPA graduate and current UW PhD student Jenna Greene also contributed to the report, providing analysis for the chapter on innovation. Her graph on patenting in CDR was reprinted in The Economist.
“Over the past 15 years, CDR patenting has increased, especially for novel CDR technologies like BECCS and DACCS. Countries are also funding more research and development for CDR technologies in recent years, but funding is concentrated in a few countries,” Greene says.
Almost all current CDR comes from conventional removal methods like planting trees and managing soils. To meet the 2-degree goal of the Paris Agreement, countries would need to increase CDR through conventional means by 50% by 2050, according to the report. Conventional CDR would need to approximately double to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees.
The report also finds that newer CDR technologies such as BECCS, biochar, DACCS, and enhanced rock weathering would need to increase significantly to limit warming in most scenarios modeled by climate scientists. Currently, 99.9% of CDR comes from conventional methods like planting trees and managing soils. Closing the CDR gap requires rapid acceleration of novel CDR technologies and implementation.
“Innovation in CDR has expanded dramatically in the past two years. But given the orders of magnitude the CDR industry needs to grow by mid-century to limit warming, there is an urgent need for comprehensive policy support to spur growth,” Nemet says.
To meet the Paris temperature goal by 2050, countries would need to remove, on average, 1,300 times more carbon dioxide through novel CDR methods than is currently taking place. Despite this, few countries have proposed to increase these technologies.
The report notes that CDR is not a silver bullet since it would need to be used in combination with deep cuts to emissions to meet the Paris goals. However, Nemet and his co-authors highlight how it is a valuable tool in the global fight against climate change that might be getting overlooked. The next decade is crucial for novel CDR technologies given how long it takes for innovative technologies to be implemented at scale.
The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal report is the first in a series that will continue to track CDR progress and provide important snapshots that can be used as resources for those who make decisions about meeting climate goals.