Could the Carbon Removal Industry Reach a Tipping Point?

May 29, 2024

Could the Carbon Removal Industry Reach a Tipping Point that Triggers Rapid and Nonlinear Growth?

The most authoritative climate scientists have made it clear that all pathways which limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) will require carbon removal alongside deep and rapid emissions reductions. Estimates vary, but most include multiple billions of tonnes of technological carbon removal annually by midcentury.

Technological carbon dioxide removal (CDR, or carbon removal) includes many different types of processes and technologies that remove carbon dioxide directly from the air and permanently store it. Direct air capture, for example, uses fans to push air over chemicals that scrub CO2 from the air, after which it can be stored underground, while carbon mineralization accelerates natural rock weathering reactions that take up and permanently store CO2. As the world moves toward net zero, carbon removal will be needed to compensate for residual emissions for which emissions reduction approaches are technologically or otherwise infeasible.

However, carbon removal technologies and approaches are not yet used at scale. While policy and investment momentum has grown significantly in the past five years, today, less than 1% of even the lowest projected need for technological carbon removal is being met. This indicates a large carbon removal gap between the amount of carbon removal happening at present and what will likely be needed to achieve net-zero emissions globally. Getting on track to meet both near-term and midcentury targets would mean drastically accelerating the recent rates of growth for technological carbon removal.

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