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Carbon removals

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), often referred to as carbon removals or negative emissions, are processes through which CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere and stored away from it permanently. There are technical (or engineered), natural and mixed processes to do so.

Natural solutions focus on enhancing carbon sequestration in the land sink, through, for example, protecting ecosystems, rewilding and reforestation. Technical solutions include direct air capture and carbon storage (DACCS), which takes CO2 out of the air and stores it permanently underground. Other processes which are described as carbon removals do not actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it. These include carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), both of which capture emissions from polluting sites (and not the atmosphere) and store them permanently underground or temporarily in products.

Interest in CDR among policymakers and businesses has exploded in recent years. However, the role of carbon removal remains controversial, with disagreement over what constitutes valid uses and sustainable techniques.

Growing interest

In the EU, at the UN and in some other parts of the world, industrial interests and business-friendly policymakers are pushing for carbon removals to be touted as a get-out-of-jail free card for polluters. Removals would, in their view, be easy and cheap to scale up, cause no major social and environmental harm, and would be suitable for compensating for continued emissions. 

This would lead to offsetting emissions with removals and slowing down the already glacial decarbonisation transition. Exploiting removals as a carbon offsetting tool would be a grave mistake partly because offsetting is not a sustainable solution and partly because of the likely very limited supply of sustainable carbon removals.

The scientific consensus regards carbon removals as a supplementary tool. It can be deployed to compensate for the final truly unavoidable emissions once the decarbonisation process has advanced to near completion and, in the future, to rid the atmosphere of legacy emissions to return to a safer climate.

What is CMW doing about it?

When it comes to carbon removals, Carbon Market Watch focuses on:

  • Monitoring the development and use of CDR techniques and policies in the EU and at the UN, and advocating for science-based removal policies
  • Informing policymakers of the risks of removals, and the role they can and cannot play in climate policy frameworks
  • Collaborating and coordinating with other stakeholders in this field for effective advocacy
  • Formulating science-based policy blueprints for the effective deployment of carbon removals

“We will need carbon removals in the future, but we need to get the foundations right, now. CDR must supplement, not substitute, emissions reductions. Deep, fast and sustained decarbonisation is the priority – removals must not be misused to undermine that. Emissions must not be offset with removals. CDR must also be implemented in a sustainable way – squandering finite resources such as land, energy and biomass would be a grave mistake.”

Wijnand Stoefs

Lead expert on carbon removals

“We will need carbon removals in the future, but we need to get the foundations right, now. CDR must supplement, not substitute, emissions reductions. Deep, fast and sustained decarbonisation is the priority – removals must not be misused to undermine that. Emissions must not be offset with removals. CDR must also be implemented in a sustainable way – squandering finite resources such as land, energy and biomass would be a grave mistake.”

Wijnand Stoefs

Lead expert on carbon removals

Latest

Climate inaction by proxy

Our investigation into Occidental Petroleum’s heavy investment, including taxpayers’ money, in untested direct air capture reveals the huge dangers involved in misusing carbon removals as a substitute for genuine climate action.

Workshop 3: The co-creation continues

Participants at the third meeting of the CO2ol Down campaign took a giant leap towards finalising their proposed amendments to the EU Climate Law and policy recommendations for governing permanent carbon removals in the EU

Highlighted

Carbon removals must supplement, not substitute, emissions reductions. Deep, fast and sustained decarbonisation is the priority

Contact our experts

Wijnand Stoefs
Lead on Carbon Removals

wijnand.stoefs[at]carbonmarketwatch.org

Fabiola De Simone
Expert on Carbon Removals

fabiola.desimone[at]carbonmarketwatch.org

Marlène Ramón Hernández
Expert on Carbon Removals

marlene.ramon[at]carbonmarketwatch.org

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