Carbon Dioxide removal behind Paris Agreement target

In order to meet the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, 0.96 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide should be annually removed compared with 2020

January 31, 2023 by Sandipan Talukdar
Image used for representational purposes only. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), also known as negative carbon dioxide emission, removes the gas from the atmosphere. CDR involves anthropogenic (man-made) activities to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it durably in geological, terrestrial and ocean reservoirs.

According to a report, more than 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere annually. However, this is not enough to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius than pre-industrial levels. This is even after multiple pledges from governments across the world to increase the CDR rate along with investing in new technologies for it.

The report, The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal, is the first global effort to estimate the total carbon to be removed annually. The January 19 report also predicts how much will have to be increased. Nearly, all CDR results from conventional methods chiefly of managing lands. A tiny proportion of it comes from the application of new technologies.

The report’s co-author Jan Minx, a climate researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, said in a statement, “If we want to have a robust strategy for meeting the Paris Climate [Accords] goal, we need to limit the dependence on CDR. This means we need to get on track with our emission reductions.”

Minx hinted that we need to go beyond the conventional methods of CDR along with planning aimed at a massive reduction of carbon dioxide.

Though the 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, as the authors of the report estimated, may appear to be a large amount, they warn that it is a lot smaller than the net total emissions per year. The conventional methods of CDR, as they pointed out, comprise primarily of managing lands to absorb carbon dioxide such as afforestation, restoration of damaged forests or soil replenishment.

A tiny amount – 0.1% of carbon removal, which accounts for 2.3 million tonnes per year – is done by applying new technologies. These include ‘Direct Air Capture Technology’ which can extract carbon dioxide from the air using chemical reactions, or the application of ‘biochar’s (biological charcoal), which can absorb carbon from the atmosphere when added to the soil.

The report estimates that if all CDR projects are applied, carbon dioxide capture could mount to 11.75 million tonnes per year by 2025.

To meet the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, the world needs to remove 0.96 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually compared with 2020, the report stated. By 2050, this amount will have to be increased further to 4.8 billion tonnes compared to the 2020 level. Contrary to what the report estimates, the current plans by governments worldwide would stand at an increase of CDR by 0.1 billion and 0.65 billion tonnes per year by 2030 and 1.5 billion to 2.3 billion tonnes 2050.

However, “deep emission cuts will be needed alongside any type of carbon removal,” commented Sara Nawaz, an environmental researcher at the American University, Washington DC. Experts say that governments should have supported CDR and increased investment in it, which is still lagging the mark.