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Climate targets cannot be achieved without CO2 removal

The countries that signed the Paris Agreement have agreed to limit CO2 emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change, but the framework does not establish any guidelines for CO2 removal. According to a team of experts led by Imperial College London, plans for CO2 removal must be urgently addressed.

Study co-author Dr. David Reiner is a political scientist and lecturer in the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.

“Countries such as the UK and France have begun to adopt binding ‘net-zero targets’ and whereas there has been extensive focus on greenhouse gas emissions and emissions reductions, meeting these targets will require greater attention to the negative emissions or carbon dioxide removal side of the equation,” said Dr. Reiner.

The researchers found that, in order to allocate CO2 removal in a fair way, countries must coordinate their efforts. This may involve a system where countries that do not have the capacity to fulfill their obligations can trade with countries who can assist with CO2 removal. 

Study co-author Dr. Niall Mac Dowell is an expert at the Centre for Environmental Policy and the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial.

“Carbon dioxide removal is necessary to meet climate targets, since we have so far not done enough to mitigate our emissions. Both will be necessary going forward, but the longer we wait to start removing CO2 on a large scale, the more we will have to do,” explained Dr. Dowell.

“It is imperative that nations have these conversations now, to determine how quotas could be allocated fairly and how countries could meet those quotas via cross-border cooperation. It will work best if we all work together.”

The first step is to determine the fairest way to allocate quotas to different nations based on factors such as the amount of CO2 emissions tied to each individual nation or the ability of each country to pay for CO2 removal. 

The team modeled several of these different factors and applied them to countries across Europe. While the results varied significantly according to method of assessment, the analysis only identified a few countries that could meet any of the quotas using only their own resources.

“The exercise of allocating CO2 removal quotas may help to break the current impasse, by incentivising countries to align their future national pledges with the expectations emerging from the fairness principles,” said study co-lead author Dr. Ángel Galán-Martín from ETH Zürich.

Carbon dioxide removal can be achieved through various methods, such as reforestation or carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, many countries are too limited to implement large-scale CCS and do not have enough space to plant trees.

The researchers propose that, after quotas have been established, that a system of trading quotas could be established. For example, the UK has abundant space for CCS and could sell some of its capacity.

“By 2050, the world needs to be carbon neutral – taking out of the atmosphere as much CO2 as it puts in. To this end, a CO2 removal industry needs to be rapidly scaled up, and that begins now, with countries looking at their responsibilities and their capacity to meet any quotas,” said study co-lead author Dr. Carlos Pozo.

“There are technological solutions ready to be deployed. Now it is time for international agreements to get the ball rolling so we can start making serious progress towards our climate goals.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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