Governments heavily relying on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to fulfill climate targets may be in violation of international law and could face legal risks in the future, researchers from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have warned in a recent study.
The study Legal limits to the use of CO2 removal, published last week in the prestigious Science Magazine, emphasizes the urgency of substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate dependence on CDR, highlighting potential legal challenges if such actions are not taken promptly.
To combat global warming effectively, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must reach a state of “net zero,” where the amount emitted equals the amount removed from the atmosphere.
Many nations have outlined plans, aligning with the 1.5°C temperature increase limit under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which involve both reducing emissions and implementing CDR.
While some CDR projects show promise, these technologies are still in their early stages, the researches point out.
The failure of governments to rapidly reduce emissions increases the reliance on CDR, posing risks such as insufficient deployment, leakage of removed CO2 back into the atmosphere, overshooting Paris Agreement targets, and competing with agriculture for land.
The researchers argue that these risks undermine the commitments of countries to contribute “fair” and “ambitious” net-zero goals aligned with scientific recommendations.
Furthermore, overdependence on CDR may not align with international law norms and principles, potentially leading to legal challenges for countries relying extensively on this approach.
“Inadequate near-term action creates a long-term dependence on removals,” co-author Professor Joeri Rogelj at Imperial said, explaining that this exposes future generations to additional risks and cleanup burdens.
Without legal guidance and limits on CDR use, over-reliance on removals may become a focal point of climate action legal challenges, he was quoted as saying by Imperial.
Citing precedents like Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, the study suggests that legal action may be initiated against states that prioritize future extensive removals over immediate emissions reductions.
The researchers stress the need for more ambitious near-term greenhouse gas reduction commitments, urging governments to focus on immediate actions rather than relying on promises of future removals to avoid potential legal challenges as they approach COP28 climate negotiations in Dubai next month.