The dust has settled after Carbon Unbound Europe 2023, which took place between on October 3 & 4, so we decided to take a look back at the event and how it became the first gathering of the carbon removal industry on this side of the Atlantic.
After the success of the first event held in New York, London was selected as the second location to hold an event that is exclusively focused on technologies that remove CO2. The venue, 22 Bishopsgate, sits right at the heart of the City and conveyed the importance of the topic at hand – reaching gigaton scale.
During the two days of the summit over 300 attendees were involved in broad-ranging panels, discussions and round-tables. Topics ranged from the price of carbon and funding gaps, to MRV and how CDR fits in the broader space of climate technology.
Startup pitches and breakout sessions also focused the attention and managed to provide deeper dives into specific subjects. Among many other discussions those about projects in the Global South, carbon negative products and the buyer’s perspective on MRV quality caught our eye.
The main challenge that found its way in many conversations was that of standardization. With a diverse set of technologies that pull CO2 from the air, or rely on natural processes like enhanced weathering and biochar, the need for science-based consensus on definitions and thresholds about what constitutes “removal” was clear.
Another theme that permeated the event was the importance of reducing emissions. A broader discussion has emerged in the public space about carbon removal’s role, painting it as unproven, costly and acting as a distraction or even as a license for continued fossil fuel use.
The industry does seem to be in a “not quite there yet” phase but given its age this is an achievement in and of itself. One of the interesting panels was specifically called “How the Way We Talk About CDR Shapes Impact at Scale” and discussed how important it is to make the case for the industry as part of the solution, rather than something that infringes on other efforts like reforestation, renewables and reductions.
Perhaps one thread that didn’t get that much attention was the role of SMB’s. With well-deserved focus on corporate buyers of carbon removal credits over the last year or so, the role of other companies seems to be underestimated.
One of the most engaging panels involved payment and shopping solutions company Klarna and business banking provider Tide who talked about their approaches to incorporating carbon removal. Klarna has an internal carbon tax which it reinvests in decarbonization projects including CO2 removal, while Tide is developing its “Member Net Zero” initiative, which aims to bring over 500,000 Indian SMBs to a no emissions status.
I had the pleasure of moderating the final panel and far from simply wrapping things up, Antti Vihavainen, CEO of Puro.earth, and Emma Parry, Global co-lead for Carbon Management at Mckinsey, talked about the enormity of the task we face and provided clarity on the biggest challenges faced by both suppliers and buyers in the fledgling carbon removal market.
One of the standout comments from Vihavainen, which resonated with everyone in the room, was about the amount of capital sitting on the sidelines and willing to engage when clear and reliable standards are in place. It was another confirmation that should MRV and certification be sorted this industry has the potential to grow, scale and have an impact.
Many of the themes and opinions that came up during the summit can be found across traditional and online media, not least on Carbon Herald’s pages, but having everyone in the same room allowed them to talk directly, freely and to a sizable, relevant audience. Carbon removal is now officially an industry and Carbon Unbound Europe proved it.