COMMENTARY: The mitigation challenge to keep below 2°C warming is immense, yet policy makers show no sign of incentivising business to research, develop and deploy the required technologies.
Photo opportunities with wind turbines and solar panels abound, but the science shows that the Paris Agreement requires removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale. Yet, carbon dioxide removal is something governments don’t seem to want to talk about.
In the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments not only agreed to limit the temperature increase to “well below 2°C”, but they also agreed to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century.
The scientific consensus is that achieving zero emissions sets our sights too low, we need to produce negative emissions by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While wind turbines and solar panels are the poster child of a low carbon economy, they can’t stop emissions in agriculture, industry, and some parts of transportation. We have also left deep mitigation so late, that we may need to overshoot the 2°C target and use carbon dioxide removal to bring the temperature increase back down to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Since mitigation in some sectors may be too costly, and we have emitted so much already, it may be cheaper to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Modelling suggests that it may be cost effective to deploy carbon dioxide removal technologies from 2020 so that they can remove as much as 25-50% of our current emissions by 2100.
Most policymakers, heads of state and government, seem to be unaware of the broader political implications of emission reductions in excess of 100%. There is no debate on the one issue that usually dominates climate negotiations – differentiation and burden-sharing.
To kick start the debate, we suggest three concrete actions for policy makers to catalyse a political conversation about carbon dioxide removal.
1. Begin negotiating differentiated carbon dioxide removal responsibilities to indicate potential pathways to net-zero emissions
2. Develop a detailed system of accounting, supported by measurement, reporting, and verification, to track carbon and financial flows and responsibilities for carbon dioxide removal
3. Develop policy portfolios capable of incentivising carbon dioxide removal, that go beyond encouraging small-scale boutique applications to support the necessary ‘gigatonne’ scale
This blog post is a summary of the press release sent to journalists before the release of the paper.