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Harmony in Climate Action

How CO2 Removals and Reductions must Work Together for a Sustainable Future.

Author: Alexandra Stone, Strategy Manager at UNDO Published: 08 Dec 2023

CO2 removals

A frequently used climate change analogy likens the atmosphere to a bathtub, where the water represents carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The situation has reached a dire point where it's not enough to just turn down the bathtub tap to a trickle of emissions; we must also start draining the bath to remove existing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The Goal: Net Zero by 2050

To keep Earth from warming no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – we must reach net zero by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Achieving net zero occurs when the volume of emissions released into the atmosphere is counterbalanced by an equivalent amount being actively removed. For instance, if a business emits 10 tonnes of CO2 to conduct its activities, it must remove 10 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. The need to reach net zero emissions to combat global warming and secure a sustainable future has long been established by climate-focused scientists but is now also gaining acceptance amongst the general public.

Turning Off the Tap: Reducing Emissions

Carbon reductions refer to efforts that decrease the amount of CO2that is released into the atmosphere, including switching to renewable energy electricity, driving electric vehicles over those powered by fossil fuels, and taking more trains in lieu of flying. By reducing the influx of additional CO2 into our atmosphere, we start to address the root cause of the problem - working towards a future where CO2 emissions are severely cut and no longer an immediate threat to the delicate ecosystem of our world. Many companies already have internal reduction targets and are committing to set structured plans to tackle their emissions year-on-year. As we globally transition to cheap, widely available renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, these reductions should become easier to achieve, with many companies able to rapidly come down the emissions curve.

Draining the Tub: Removing Atmospheric CO2

To bail out and drain our bathtub, we need CO2 removal. CO2 removal is achieved through the various technologies that remove and store CO2 already in the atmosphere. These solutions range from nature-based methods, such as Reforestation and Soil Capture, to technology-based methods such as Direct Air Capture and Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage. There are also hybrid approaches, like Enhanced Rock Weathering, which is enabled by natural processes but stores CO2 long-term like tech-based solutions.

As of today, we have emitted around 2,500 billion tonnes of man-made CO2 into the atmosphere. Removal technologies are crucial to deploy alongside reductions to allow us to address this damage that has been done in the past.

Enhanced Rock Weathering: Part of the Carbon Removal Solution

CO2 removals

I work for an Enhanced Rock Weathering company called UNDO. Enhanced Rock Weathering (ERW) is an open-system CO2 removal technology that dramatically accelerates the natural rock weathering process that has been occurring for millions of years. UNDO does this by applying crushed silicate rocks, often found as a byproduct of the aggregate industry, on agricultural land. Using crushed rock vastly increases its reactive surface area. When the silicate rock is exposed to atmospheric CO2, a natural chemical reaction occurs that releases ions into the soil. The released ions react with dissolved CO2 and form stable carbonate minerals, effectively sequestering the carbon in the form of solid minerals and preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere as CO2. ERW is only one of many high-quality technologies available to us, and to reach required numbers of removals, we must continue to research, develop, and deploy as many of them as prove viable.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

The climate crisis is not an either-or scenario. We need both reductions and removals on a massive scale as soon as possible. Critics often argue that permitting companies to offset emissions through removals serves as an easy way out, providing a "get-out-of-jail" card that could enable companies to continue to emit high levels of CO2 with little incentive to decarbonize. It is crucial, however, to recognize the practical challenges most companies will face in achieving absolute zero emissions. Setting such an ambitious target is unrealistic for most entities. We should instead encourage companies to incorporate emissions removal strategies into their climate and sustainability plans, so they are better positioned to work towards achievable net zero in the future. After all, these removal technologies will need to scale rapidly to provide the supply needed to mitigate excess atmospheric CO2.

There is not one magic way to combat climate change and create a sustainable future. We will need all viable solutions, both reduction and removal related, to reach the best state possible, as quickly as possible.

CO2 removals



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