Why do we need Carbon Dioxide Removal and what exactly is it?

Ing. Václav Kurel
May 10, 2021
Climate and carbon credits

The fight against climate change requires all the tools available, including removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The cause of climate change is the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The European plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions aims to reduce their annual additions with the technologies we have today. This is necessary, but it does not address the cause of climate change. At the same time, we need to develop capacities to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The problem of climate change is quite complex, therefore (for most people) hard to imagine. However, it can be analogized to a very relatable situation. Imagine that your bathtub is overflowing. You have 1,650 litres (8 full bathtubs) already spilled on the floor and more water is coming in through the tap. Each year, this adds up to approximately 34 more litres (3.5 buckets). Now imagine the damage that spilled water causes. You've got ruined floors, furniture, and the ceiling in the floor below where the water is leaking. You need to shut off the water supply as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the tap is rusted, so you cannot close it all the way. It is hard to do, but at least you made a little move, better than nothing. In any case, to stop further damage, you will have to start mopping up the excess water as soon as possible. The water level is quite high and it makes your cozy apartment truly hard to live in.

It is similar to climate change.

Only this time it is not about litres of water, but billions of tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere. Approximately half of our emissions will be absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere, but the rest will remain in the atmosphere for another thousand years unless we remove it. Since the year 1751, mankind has emitted 1,649 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, more than half of it in the last 30 years. The estimate of global CO2 emissions for 2020 is 34 billion tonnes. We plan to eliminate a large part of these emissions by 2050 by switching to renewable sources of electricity and phasing out the use of fossil fuels in industry and heat production. But in certain sectors, we may not reach zero emissions even in 2050. Furthermore, in cement production and air transport, for example, we have no carbon-free technology available today that we could use on a large scale in the future.

As mankind, we are now devoting a great deal of energy to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that is absolutely right and necessary. However, we should put just as much effort into building the capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it permanently, the so-called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). The IPCC's latest assessment report states that all scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5°C assume a CDR of 100-1000 billion tonnes of CO2 over the course of the 21st century.

There are two basic types of CDR approaches. Either they use existing natural processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis (e.g. by increasing its uptake by trees, seaweed, wetlands or soil), or they use chemical processes that, for example, capture CO2 directly from the ambient air and store it elsewhere (usually underground) using huge fans. All CDR methods have their advantages and any available capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere will be needed. Therefore, we should work on developing and testing all CDR methods.

The development of CDR today is mainly funded by progressive corporations who want to achieve net-zero emissions in the foreseeable future for their carbon footprint measured across their entire supply and demand chain. With existing technologies, they cannot get to net-zero by 2030, nor 2050, and they need someone to sequester their customers' and suppliers' emissions. They, therefore, buy so-called offsets, which are a kind of carbon credits from various CDR projects. In the US, this approach is exemplified by companies such as Microsoft and Stripe, which openly communicate their principles to make it easier for other companies to seek a responsible approach and set boundaries for offset providers.

Fortunately, similar intentions are emerging among European corporations. The European Commission recognizes the crucial role of carbon reduction and intends to focus on natural CDR methods as they appear to be more cost-effective and viable in the short term.

Carboneg's aim is to support these intentions and build sufficient capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and store it permanently in the soil.

Reducing emissions is not enough.

At the same time, we need to remove carbon from the atmosphere and regenerate natural ecosystems, so that they can better withstand the impacts of climate change and perhaps also help us in this battle.

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