A new report convening over 20 experts in the field of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) has suggested that, while CDR from the atmosphere is needed to reach the Paris Agreement temperature goal alongside rapidly reducing emissions, there are many issues still left to address in order to close the gap between development and deployment at scale.
According to the first ‘State of Carbon Dioxide Removal‘ report, which was led by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, almost all current CDR comes from conventional removal methods on land, primarily via planting trees and managing soils. Countries need to maintain and expand this, approximately doubling in 1.5°C pathways and increasing by around 50 per cent in 2°C pathways by 2050 compared to 2020 levels. In a warming climate, this is a huge challenge that requires dedicated policies and management, said the authors.
However, virtually all pathways also require new CDR technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), biochar, enhanced rock weathering, and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). New CDR technologies make up only a tiny fraction of current CDR, and closing the gap requires rapid growth of these new technologies, by a factor of 1300 on average by 2050.
“To limit warming to 2°C or lower, we need to accelerate emissions reductions. But the findings of this report are clear: we also need to increase carbon removal, too, by restoring and enhancing ecosystems and rapidly scaling up new CDR methods,” said report author Dr Steve Smith. “Many new methods are
emerging with potential. Rather than focusing on one or two options we should encourage a portfolio, so that we get to net zero quickly without over-relying on any one method.”
CDR is not a silver bullet, as pathways that limit warming to 2°C or lower require deep cuts to emissions in addition to, not in place of, CDR. Our dependence on CDR can be limited by reducing emissions fast and using energy more efficiently, argue the report authors.
While research, innovation and public awareness of CDR have expanded, closing the CDR gap requires urgent and comprehensive policy support. The amount of CDR deployment required in the second half of the century will only be feasible if we see substantial new deployment in the next ten years – novel CDR’s formative phase.
“Innovation in CDR has expanded dramatically in the past two years, as measured by investment in capacity, publicly funded research, and patents. 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,” said co-author Professor Gregory Nemet.
“CDR is not something we could do, but something we absolutely have to do to reach the Paris Agreement temperature goal,” said author Dr Oliver Geden. “More than 120 national governments have a net-zero emissions target, which implies using CDR, but few governments have actionable plans for developing it. This presents a major shortfall.”
The report is intended to regularly inform researchers, policymakers and practitioners on the state of progress, by systematically collecting and analysing the vast amount of data and developments in many parts of the world.
“Right now critical information on CDR is widely dispersed and difficult to access. This hampers progress,” said author Jan Minx. “The state of CDR research, development and policy lags behind – similar to renewables 25 years ago. Good decisions and accelerated progress in the field of CDR require adequate data. This report will help improve this situation step-by-step with the wider CDR community.”