Ben Turner, CEO at Origen Carbon Solutions, argues that politics should not be a factor in holding back carbon removing technologies, and that it is time to depoliticise the conversation.
If we are ever to undo the damage done by two centuries of unfettered industrialisation, then the emerging carbon dioxide removal (CDR) industry must be given room to develop and grow at scale and pace. Part of that involves a re-awakening of an entrepreneurial spirit matched by new free-flowing revenue streams to invest in the industry. But for CDR to succeed it needs to operate in an environment safe from unwarranted and unnecessary political interference.
Conflicting and contradictory political messages need to be erased so that today’s CDR pioneers can begin the task of reversing climate change. For that to happen, we must depoliticise climate change.
Climate change should be above politics after all, climate change is not a political issue. It is an environmental one. And it affects us all. That is part of the reason we must stop the blue-sky thinking narrative that so often accompanies environmental issues and, instead, encourage more blue-sky doing.
All talk — and no action — will not save the planet. Of course, it is not to say that all political intervention is unwelcome. The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, for example, is a game changer. The increase in credit values to $180 tonne of CO2 captured and stored for direct air capture (DAC), for example, should provide a much-welcomed financial incentive to companies looking to invest.
But that is only one nation’s response to a global issue. Without a joined-up approach built on consensus, the emerging CDR industry will be hamstrung from the start. We need to build a non-politicised consensus — and fast.
For example, in Europe, the prevailing wind is very much, “if you do not decarbonise, we are going to tax you.” Whereas in the US, the approach is “we will not tax you if you do not, but we will give you an incentive if you do.” While both approaches have their merits, national political rules enforced on international problem-solvers for a global issue make it harder for firms to plan ahead and develop workable, scalable solutions.
If regulators get it wrong — or change tack in response to political or economic pressures — then they are in danger of tying up businesses in red tape when what’s needed is a consensus that allows for swift and affirmative action. It is one of the issues addressed by the Presidency of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, which talks about the “advancement of partnership and collaboration” where “humans are at the centre of climate talks. We need “unity against an existential threat”.
Welcoming delegates, Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, wrote: “I deeply believe that COP27 is an opportunity to showcase unity against an existential threat that we can only overcome through concerted action and effective implementation. Egypt will spare no effort to ensure that COP27 becomes the moment when the world moved from negotiation to implementation and where words were translated to actions, and where we collectively embarked on a path towards sustainability, a just transition and eventually a greener future for coming generations.”
I could not agree more. We have an opportunity to leverage huge amounts of engineering skills and technological know-how. Combined with a successful financial market, we have everything in place to take a lead in the fight against climate change. And yet, there are times when I feel we are wasting the opportunity because of legislative turmoil and revolving door policies and politicians.
Politics should not be a factor that is holding back the progress of these industries. The impact of climate change is being felt to varying degrees around the world, and we need to act fast to stop it. Not only does this require cross-party cooperation, but it also requires shared ambition that crosses international borders. When it comes to reversing climate change, we need to get moving. And we need to get moving now.