Countries need to pull more carbon dioxide out of the air

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SORAN MARY, no amount of new solar panels or wind turbines will be enough to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming. Climate models are unanimous: in addition to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases produced, humans must also pull a lot out of the atmosphere. But according to the first global assessment of carbon dioxide removal, published on January 19 by a group of American, British and other European scientists, there is a huge gap between what is possible now and what will be. needed to keep the average temperature between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels – the goal set out in the Paris agreement (see chart).

The researchers calculated that maintaining temperatures within that range would have to remove anything from 450bn to 1,100bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2100. The former is about ten times what humans distributed annually; the second is almost half of what they have ever done. At present only 2bn tonnes are removed each year. Almost all of that is followed through conventional means, such as planting or maintaining forests.

These methods will not be enough. Under existing countries’ policies and commitments, such yarn would absorb around 2.6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. That’s between 48% and 74% of what the authors measure what is needed to stay on track, depending on the extent renewable energy is increased or the demand for energy is reduced.

Instead, the shortfall must be made up with new technologies, which currently account for a small fraction of movements (around 2m tonnes, or 0.1% per year). These include direct atmospheric carbon capture and storage (DACCS), which pulls carbon from the air and seals it underground (or uses it to make permanent products, such as cement); and “biochar”, waste organic matter that is turned into charcoal and buried.

None of this currently exists, although efforts to get there are growing. The report found that the number of carbon removal patents has increased steadily over the past two decades, particularly in China (see table 2). In 2018, the last year for which complete data is available, 129 patent applications were filed worldwide; in 2000 there were only 19.

Between 2010 and 2022 $4.1bn of public money has been sent towards the research, development and demonstration of carbon absorption technologies, especially in America. The authors of the report believe that the industry will need to grow by four to six orders of magnitude by 2050 to have a chance of reaching temperature targets. Much more funding is needed, as is a faster pace of innovation.

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