New Report Charts A Path For Carbon Removal And Emission Reductions

New Report Charts A Path For Carbon Removal And Emission Reductions - Carbon Herald

Delaying climate action in a world where it is a precedent we reduce emissions immediately to stop dangerous climate change is real and it is happening right now across industries. Many people are also worried new sectors like the carbon dioxide removal that is taking care of emissions already released into the atmosphere might be used as an excuse by those delaying emission reduction to continue to do so. 

A new report titled “How to avoid carbon removal delaying emissions reductions” is looking into this issue and trying to provide solutions to prevent what is commonly referred to as ‘mitigation deterrence’ or ‘moral hazard’. 

Relevant: First Of Its Kind Carbon Removal Report To Be Launched Jan 19th

The discussion paper is authored by Robert Höglund – an advisor in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and climate policy, Eli Mitchell-Larson – Chief Science & Advocacy Officer and co-founder of Carbon Gap and Sylvain Delerce, an Associate Research Director at Carbon Gap.

The report aims to take the conversation of carbon removal being used as mitigation deterrence to a practical level, giving clear suggestions for how countries and companies can manage such risks depending on why carbon removal is used and by whom. Suggested are 12 solutions that governments and the private sector can start implementing today.

Credit: Carbon Gap

The solutions to prevent carbon removal from being used to delay serious emission reductions are as follows:

  • Remove obstacles to emission reductions and make decarbonized alternatives economically viable – making emission reduction pathways and technologies widely available and affordable for companies and individuals is the first and most important step that needs to be taken to address mitigation deterrence. If companies don’t have the option to reduce emissions, they will simply have no other way but to use carbon removal to deal with them. 
  • Set separate fixed targets for CDR and emissions reductions in the short to medium term – the paper suggests setting separate targets for both emission reduction and carbon removal. As an example given, the EU could set a target of 55% emissions reductions and a hypothetical target for permanent carbon removal of 50 million metric tons for 2030. A percentage target for CDR is not recommended as it is currently unknown how different mitigation and removal options will be developed in the future. 
  • Carefully regulate climate related claims and increase the requirement for transparency – this is a major critical step for avoiding mitigation deterrence. Companies can currently claim additional recognition or value (like being carbon neutral or net zero) on weak emission reduction strategies just by buying dodgy carbon offsets equal to the amount of emissions they emit. In the future, they should be prevented from buying even more reliable permanent carbon removal if they can simply have the option to reduce those emissions.
  • Strictly implement the like-for-like removal principle to regulate any permitted compensation – the like for like removal principle is a fairly new concept but is defined by the UNFCCCs Race to Zero campaign as ‘when a source of emissions and an emissions sink correspond in terms of their warming impact, and in terms of the timescale and durability of carbon storage’. That means each type of GHG emission is not equal and cannot be really compensated for with just any type of carbon removal. For example, a coal plant emits CO2 and many other harmful gases including particulate matter, therefore its emissions cannot be offset by a reforestation project or sustainable agriculture project as they store the CO2 for shorter times. Such emissions could well be compensated for with durable carbon storage like direct air capture and storage in a solid form underground. The like-for-like removal principle indicates that CO2 that came from permanent storage, such as fossil fuels, must be returned to permanent storage.
  • Support carbon removal today to reduce the risk of it failing to materialize to fulfill its planned role – as CDR at scale requires decades of innovation, talent, permitting, new policies, land, engagement with local populations, and a lot of electricity, it is best to start today rather than postpone their deployment until emissions reductions at scale get widely available. 
  • Only plan for a limited amount of removals to be available for net zero targets – the Science-Based Target initiative’s (SBTi) Net Zero Standard determines that companies need to reduce emissions by at least 90% and only use carbon removal to neutralize up to the last 10%. The paper advises that for corporate and national long-term targets, a range rather than a fixed percentage is likely best since it leaves room for technological development both in emissions reductions and carbon removal.

Relevant: Finds Just 0.5% Of Companies With SBTi Targets Have Bought Durable Carbon Removal

  • Develop clear principles for when it is preferable to deploy carbon removal instead of emissions reductions – there needs to be a clear principle developed of when to deploy carbon removal instead of emissions reductions.
  • Set and implement targets that avoid, or minimize, overshoot – countries can also use carbon removal to avoid implementing emission reduction targets and minimize overshoot. However, countries that perceive it as impossible to further reduce their emissions beyond current plans are unlikely to be influenced by the potential for CDR, since they lack stricter targets in general. Also, a country that is indifferent to whether the global temperature increase stays within the 1.5C limit is unlikely to have emissions reductions deterred by CDR. 
  • Demand detailed and fully transparent (accessible) carbon removal plans 
  • Allocate the future responsibility for the negative emissions that are needed to reverse overshoot – unallocated responsibilities for net negative emissions carry a much higher risk for permanent overshoot than allocated ones.
  • Set complementary carbon targets that include upstream and downstream emissions from a country’s activities – countries should also take responsibility for the emissions they generate that are in Scope 2 and 3 or the emissions caused by imports and exports of fossil fuels for example. 

Currently, mitigation deterrence risks delaying both emission reductions and carbon dioxide removal deployment exist and create a dangerous situation. The implementation of solutions like those listed in the report is critical to avoid and manage them. 

Mitigation deterrence that is not only caused by carbon removal but also other factors within the economy like lobbying from the oil and gas sector against climate policies or people employed in the oil and gas sectors willing to keep the industry growing to save their jobs and profits, also prevent urgent climate action and will have to be managed with strict policies and regulations.

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