Call for distinction between GHG reduction and carbon removal

carbon removal

Cleantech company, Climeworks, is calling for a clear and distinct role for carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which they say has a vital role to play in the fight against global warming, but crucially has a different function than being used as a substitute for emissions reductions.

Emissions reductions and CDR should be clearly distinguished from each other in climate pathways and target setting, as well as in industry standards, according to Climeworks. They also highlighted the fact that a clear distinction is needed in marketplaces and certificates generated from the two activities. Whilst they are important and meaningful for the achievement of a net-zero world, credits generated from emissions reductions and avoided emissions should cease to exist, as soon as a net-zero state is achieved. At the same time, the world will continue to rely on CDR markets to neutralise residual and historic emissions to maintain net-zero CO2, and later realise net-negative CO2 emissions globally.

By explicitly splitting the contributions from emission reductions and removals, moral hazard is addressed, namely the claim that investing into CDR today could distract from emission reductions.

“Climate science clearly outlines a need for both unprecedented emission reductions and carbon dioxide removal activities on top of that. At the same time, only a permanent removal can neutralise the climate effect of emitting residual fossil carbon. Therefore, separate climate targets along with clear distinctions between these two approaches is needed for transparency and to minimize the risk of undermining efforts to significantly cut emissions,” agreed Mark Preston Aragonès, policy manager for carbon accounting at Bellona Europe.

Following this principle, Climeworks said that it decided to take several actions. Firstly, the company signed an open industry letter calling for strong standards to assess the performance of different CDR methods, and participated in another open letter requesting the Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance (NZAOA), representing over $11 trillion of capital from the world’s largest and most forward-thinking institutional investors, to introduce targets specifically for carbon removals, separate from existing carbon reduction targets, supporting a combined approach of urgently reducing emissions and allowing for the removal of residual and historic emissions.

Climeworks also joined the board of the Carbon Removal Alliance in February 2023, uniting several carbon removal developers with the goal to advance policies and develop science-based MRV methods specifically for permanent CDR in the USA.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Climeworks became a founding member of the Negative Emissions Platform (NEP). Among other things, the NEP advocates for a clear differentiation between reduction and removal credits.

“Besides and additional to more ambitious emissions reductions and avoidance, carbon removal is needed to neutralise residual or historic emissions to get to net-zero GHG emissions. Climate policy and climate action via carbon markets need to internalise this logic to realise their full potential,” said Christoph Beuttler, Climeworks’ chief climate policy officer.

“In practice this translates to separated targets as well as distinct credit categories for activities that reduce or avoid emissions compared to carbon removal. To inform meaningful net-zero strategies today, market standards should clearly distinguish between offsets from emission reductions/avoidance and carbon removal from the atmosphere.”

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