How good are carbon removal technologies?

How good are carbon removal technologies?

In his last report published April 4, 2022, the IPCC for the first time highlighted the technologies ofremoval of carbon dioxide (EDC) as a possible solution to achieve the climate goals set by the States. But what exactly is it? And what are the challenges of this emerging technology?

Carbon Removal Technologies (EDC): What is it?

Technologies for elimination o carbon sequestrationor negative emission technologies, refer to processes that aim to extract the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the basement.

These processes can be “natural”: restoration of wetlands, massive reforestation, etc. Or created by the hand of man: direct capture in the air, management of soils to improve their ability to capture carbon, accelerated atmospheric agentsocean fertilization to increase the absorption of CO2 from algae …

We know that excess CO2 in the atmosphere is a major cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions intensify the greenhouse effect.

For the IPCC, EDCs are part of the solutions we have to combat global warming. Provided, however, to change the model. For limit heating to 1.5 or 2 degreesby 2050, several billion tons of CO2 must be extracted from the atmosphere per year. However, in 2021, less than 10,000 tons of CO2 they have been removed from the atmosphere.

Where are we today?

Also according to the latest IPCC report, the carbon emissions they have never been higher in the history of mankind. We have little time to contain global warming to 1.5 ° C, the limit set by theParis Agreement 2015. A milestone that cannot be achieved without a paradigm shift.

At national and European level, however, laws have been passed to combat global warming. For example, the European climate law legally binds the European Union to achieve a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and carbon removal (known as carbon neutrality) by 2050. One of the goals set by the law is to extract 225 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030.

Today, however, the elimination majority or carbon storage they are still in the planning stage. They do not allow for the level of carbon emissions to be offset for the time being. But these new solutions could be implemented on a large scale in the years to come.

In any case, they are arousing real enthusiasm in the financial sector: in the United States several tech giants (Meta, Stripe, Shopify and Alphabet) have launched the initiative with McKinsey borderwhich aims to accelerate the development of EDC technologies.

The target. the goal? Buy $ 925 million worth of CO2 removal from companies developing this technology by 2030. “The goal is to send a strong signal to researchers, entrepreneurs and investors that there is a growing market for these technologies”we can read on the program website.

In 2017 the study “Solutions for the natural climate”Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesit also demonstrated that appropriate measures in terms of nature management could enable the world to reduce by a third the share of CO2 emissions it needs to reduce by 2030.

Since then, other studies have questioned these figures. One certainty remains: through soil management, lawn restoration or large-scale tree planting, it is possible to absorb some of the greenhouse gases.

Carbon removal technologies: no miracles in sight

Elsewhere in the world, large-scale projects have been implemented to test these new technologies. In Iceland, Climeworks recently launched the largest CO2 capture plant in the world.

But its catching ability can only make up for it 4000 tons of CO2 per year, the annual emissions of 870 cars. A symbolic contribution. Furthermore, if this project were to be implemented on a large scale, it would be definitely create an industrial sector… And therefore emit CO2!

Along with other natural carbon removal techniques, these designs can still play a role in capturing a (very) small part of the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. But for the IPCC, if these technologies have an obvious interest, their potential is limited and their cost very high.

The most important (and most urgent) thing therefore remains the transition to a more virtuous model, which will make it possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than thinking about a logic of compensation. And for this, no secrets: it is urgent to stop fossil fuel projects, consume less meat, make the most of soft mobility and develop renewable energies.

For researcher Glen Peters of the International Climate Research Center in Oslo, “[pour que les technologies EDC fonctionnent]we must already reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 or 90% ”.

In other words, it is not a magic solution, which can exempt us from making efforts in terms of reducing greenhouse gases. This also raises an ethical question: Can we rely solely (or primarily) on carbon elimination technologies, without reducing our use of fossil fuels and thinking about the advent of a new global model?

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