A recent short paper in the Nature family of journals offers six expert viewpoints of the key issues relating to carbon dioxide removal as a means of mitigating climate change. Contributions by Holly Jean Buck, Lili Fuhr, Oliver Geden, Glen Peters, Eve Tamme and Climate Uncensored’s Kevin Anderson.
Not only are we falling far short of cutting emissions in line with our Paris temperature and equity commitments, but the rate of this failure is actually accelerating. For a flip-of-a-coin chance of staying at or below 1.5°C we have, globally, just five to eight years of current emissions before we blow our carbon budget. For a good chance of 2°C this extends to 15 to 18 years. Surely then, if our national leaders are serious about climate change they should be driving an agenda of rapid and progressive social and technical change aligned with their/our Paris commitments.
Hold on a minute … isn’t there a plan B? Perhaps there’s a technical solution that will allow policymakers to avoid having to be policy makers – i.e. facing difficult political challenges head on? Step forward carbon dioxide removal (CDR), negative emission technologies, (NETs), Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS), Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS), Nature Based Solutions (NbS). Now we’re talking! The alphabet soup of CDR, NETs, BECCS, DACCS and NbS has a deep allure to weak ‘business as usual’ policymakers – a not inconsiderable number of whom reside in the pockets of Big Oil, Dirty Gas & Filthy Coal.
But is CDR, in its various confusing guises, really such a technical salvation? Certainly it is the darling of the mitigation modelling community – coincidently, all of whom are based within wealthy high-emitting nations. Their huge models love the prospect of our children and grandchildren deploying planetary-scale CDR to suck many 100s of billions of tonnes of our (your and my) carbon dioxide out of the air, before burying it deep underground somewhere.
However, whilst these Dr. Strangelove-esque modellers have been won over by highly speculative (at scale) future technologies, elsewhere there remains some healthy scepticism and serious concerns, as evidenced in this Nature Reviews article.
The full reference is Anderson, K., Buck, H.J., Fuhr, L. et al. Controversies of carbon dioxide removal, in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-023-00493-y
A cached, non-paywalled version of the article is available at https://archive.ph/SIoqc .