Carbon removals emerges as a critical discussion point at COP27

By Climate Champions | November 16, 2022

COP27 continues for a second week in Sharm El-Sheik, with discussions now moving to loss and damage – in which carbon removals can play a critical role. This pivot has been reflected in the number of events, discussions and policy announcements supporting carbon removals in the last week.

In a marked change from prior conference, carbon removals has emerged as a critical discussion point during COP27. Once considered a “nice to have, but not essential”, various events across the conference, hosted by a variety of organisations have underscored that CDR is now essential, required in large volumes, and needed quicker than previously thought.

One of the biggest ongoing contentious issues is who pays for the loss and damage funding, particularly for countries that cannot avoid or adapt to the climate crisis. There has been increasing calls over the past few years for climate reparations to be integrated into the solution in the climate emergency fight. In 2021, Indian Energy Minister, Raj Kumar Singh office called out the Global North and demanded it not only reduced its emissions, but also began to remove the pollution it had caused that had resulted in deadly storms, flooding, and increasing temperatures, predominantly affecting Global South countries. Later that same year, New York Magazine argued that removal could, in theory, pull the most vulnerable parts of the world back from the brink of ecological disaster. This has been reflected in research by Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh which explores the economic implications of imposing carbon takeback obligation on the global fossil fuel industry and shows how it can be an affordable and low risk route to zero emissions.

Chris Neidl, Co-Founder, The OpenAir Collective said: “The addition of ‘repair’ to loss and damage discussions cannot be understated. It marks a huge step forward in the tactics we use to fight the climate emergency; if we are to keep the target of a 1.5-degree global warming alive, it is no longer enough to just reduce emissions. We need to remove existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale, in tandem with the crucial work of reducing emissions and preparing for climate impacts.”

“The addition of ‘repair’ to the arguments for loss and damage marks a step-change in the negotiations, which now recognises the need to include restoration of the climate through tangible actions as well as commitments to reduce overall emissions. Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is one vital element of repair, which an increasing number of states and organisations are now calling for in order to keep the 1.5-degree target alive.”

He continued: “There have been some incredibly insightful – and dare we say, hopeful – events in the first week of COP27, where innovators have gathered to discuss different philosophies and approaches to carbon removal. It shows that the industry and ecosystem is incredibly diverse, and that is something to celebrate. However we desperately need to scale up these efforts if we are to have any hope of combining commitments made to reduce emissions and minimise the devastating effects of the climate emergency.”

The 17th edition of the Global Carbon Budget found that CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2022; worryingly, if this trend were to continue, the remaining carbon budget would expire within nine years. These findings underscore the need for existing carbon dioxide within the atmosphere to be removed in large quantities.

There have been some major legislative propositions made at COP27 supporting carbon removals:

  • In Luxembourg MP Deputy Sven Clement submitted new legislation that the nation would aim to leverage its wealth and significant global footprint as a leading financial centre to drive innovation and early growth of negative emissions technologies such as Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC), both within its borders and abroad.
  • In Massachusetts, State Senate Majority Leader, Cynthia Stone Creem announced her plan to introduce the Massachusetts Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, cementing the State’s position as one the most climate forward states in the US; committing to net-zero emissions by 2050 and obliging it to slash emissions by 85 percent, while relying on negative emissions from forests, wetlands, and bodies of water to address the remaining 15 percent.
  • In California, State Senator Josh Becker announced his plans to introduce the California Carbon Dioxide Removal Market Development Act. The bill is rooted in last year’s landmark law AB 1279 which established a legally-binding target for reducing GHG emissions by at least 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2045, as part of achieving net-zero GHG emissions. Senator Becker’s legislation would amend the offset component by gradually requiring that all offsets be met by durable and verifiable carbon removals.
  • The Unites States has also signed a $100 billion strategic partnership agreement with the United Arab Emirates that will develop clean energy projects which will add 100 gigawatts globally by 2035 – including funding for carbon and methane management.

Over COP27, a number of significant publications relating to CDR have been released;

  • Recognising the need for a common framework of certification for carbon sequestration, the Global Carbon Removal Partnership has released a framework proposing answers to questions surrounding the governance, design, usage and definitions, which could bring much needed transparency and agreed common standards.
  • The Paris Agreement calls for a balance of carbon sinks and carbon sources, including the use of carbon removals to combat residual emissions in the atmosphere, by the year 2050. The UN Secretary General’s High level Expert Group published its Net Zero recommendations during COP27, outlining some crucial clarifications in relation to carbon removals and strengthening its role as a vital third pillar in tackling rising global temperatures.

Carbon removal discussions are plentiful in the second week of COP27, such as:

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