Climate change: six priorities for pulling carbon out of the air

(The Conversation, 28 May 2021) To reach net zero emissions by 2050, global emissions must be cut faster and deeper than the world has yet managed. But even then, some hard-to-treat sources of pollution – in aviation, agriculture and cement making – may linger for longer than we would like. It will take time for clean alternatives to arrive and replace them.

That means the world also needs to find and ramp up ways of taking CO₂ out of the atmosphere to stabilise the climate. Just meeting the UK’s net zero target is likely to require the removal of 100 million tonnes of CO₂ a year, similar in size to current emissions from the country’s largest-emitting sector, road transport, but in reverse.

The UK government’s announcement of £31.5 million (US$44.7 million) in support for research and development of carbon removal is welcome. And while trials of new tech will help, there are many social issues that need to be tackled if removing greenhouse gases is to succeed.

Done right, carbon removal could be the perfect accompaniment to emissions cuts, bringing the climate back into balance. Done badly, it could be a dangerous distraction.

Getting removal right

Greenhouse gases can be removed from the atmosphere in several different ways. CO₂ can be captured by plants as they grow or absorbed by soils, minerals or chemicals, and locked up in the biosphere, oceans, underground, or even in long-lived products such as construction materials (including timber or aggregates).

External link

The Conversation, 28 May 2021: Climate change: six priorities for pulling carbon out of the air