Industry experts urge COP26 to focus on the specifics of carbon removal in the transition to net-zero

Net Zero Challenge

Industry experts urge COP26 to focus on the specifics of carbon removal in the transition to net-zero

Industry experts believe the last IPCC report lacked details on carbon removal techniques from a technical, financial and political perspective. There are concerns about how this information will influence future policy plans.

The latest report delivered by the IPCC suggests that carbon dioxide removal measures will be essential in influencing the stability of global temperatures. Energy industry experts have voiced concerns, however, that many of the limitations of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques, whether they be technical, financial or political, are not carefully considered within the report, which focuses more on the physical aspects of climate change.

The scenarios explored in the report don’t include any specific details on how much CDR is required. CDR is be something that will be explored in the IPCC Working Group report due for March next year, after the COP26 negotiations.

In scenarios where temperature rises are limited to 1.5 – 2 degrees, large net removals are due after 2050. However, the actual level of residual emissions and the CDR offsetting them are not present in the report. This oversight of CDR offsetting has caused concern with some industry experts, as this information fails to consider the technical and financial challenges involved in reaching high removal levels. This means decision-makers believe they have more time to implement new plans and assume there are adequate carbon dioxide removal systems in place. It effectively enables high-industry emitters to continue generating emissions as they believe they will be offset by CDR.

Another issue highlighted by other environmental experts is the net-zero assumption that one tonne of carbon equates to one tonne of carbon removed. For example, applying carbon sinks such as forests, soils or peat bogs to offset emissions from fossil fuels involves a significant variance in timescales. 

It can take multiple years for these processes to begin removing and storing carbon in measurable volumes. With further disruptions to our environment, offsetting techniques like the ones mentioned are unfortunately becoming less reliable and risk potentially releasing captured carbon quicker than expected.

Effective climate policies are dependent on these differences between units of carbon. Determining which emissions to reduce with the lowest economic damage is critical. Exploring which methods of carbon removal create mutual benefits for biodiversity and our health are a necessity.

When leaders and decision-makers meet at COP26 in November, they must carefully consider how the sustainable removal capacity will repair our planet and how much removals are required to offset residual emissions. Decision-makers should strive to create separate targets for emissions reduction and carbon removal, and more importantly, ensuring emission removal happens at the source.

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