Climate modeling scenarios indicate that even with deep emissions reductions, all pathways that limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) include carbon dioxide removal (hereafter referred to as carbon removal). While carbon removal will be needed at some scale, the amount we will ultimately need depends on how much we reduce emissions in the near term: the more emissions are reduced in the short term, the less carbon removal will be necessary in the future. 

This carbon removal can come from natural approaches like growing trees, but to effectively manage trade-offs associated with each approach (including the saturation of natural sinks in the longer term), we need to develop a broad portfolio of approaches that includes carbon removal technologies as well. 

Climate modeling scenarios show a wide range of reliance on carbon removal technologies, with the median close to five billion tons of removal annually by midcentury. Limiting reliance on carbon removal to the lower end of this range will require greater focus on rapid near-term emissions reductions. 

In order to reach gigatonne-scale carbon removal capacity, the public and private sectors and other stakeholders all have a role to play. Approaches could include increasing funding for research, development and deployment of carbon removal technologies, expanding complementary infrastructure, and developing robust governance structures that include prioritization of equity and sustainability. 

Encouragingly, carbon removal has already made big strides, transforming in just a few years from a little-known concept to a well-defined need. New technologies are attracting billions of dollars in public and private financing, up from almost nothing less than five years ago. As the industry takes off, it presents an opportunity to help define the rules of the road for scaling up. 

Data Insights

What targets are most important to reach in the future?

Systems Change Lab has identified 1 target to track progress. Click a chart to explore the data.

What factors may enable and prevent change?

Systems Change Lab has identified 8 factors of change that may catalyze or impede progress. Click a chart to explore the data.

Progress toward targets

Systems Change Lab has identified 1 targets target to track progress. Explore the data below.

Scale up technological carbon removal at a rate that puts us on track for multi-gigaton scale removal by 2050

Scaling up technological carbon removal at a rate that puts us on track for multi-gigatonne scale removal by 2050 and aligns with climate goals means we will likely need 75 MtCO2/year of carbon removal by 2030.

To be defined as carbon removal, carbon dioxide (CO2) must be captured from the atmosphere, not at a point source like a cement plant. (The latter would count as emissions reduction rather than carbon removal, since it prevents emissions from entering the atmosphere.) Carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere must then be permanently sequestered, including through injection into deep underground geological formations, creation of stable carbonate minerals or use in durable products (e.g., concrete). 

A key indicator for tracking progress on carbon removal is identifying how many metric tons (tonnes, t) of CO2 have been captured from the air through technological carbon removal approaches and stored permanently. 

Today, that number stands at less than 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year (MtCO2/yr). DAC capacity is about 8,000 tCO2/yr (0.008 MtCO2/yr), but only half of that captured CO2 is stored permanently, largely through the 4,000 tCO2/yr (0.004 MtCO2/yr) Orca DAC plant in Iceland operated by Climeworks. This is similar in volume to the annual emissions from 870 cars. For bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), one ethanol facility with carbon capture and storage (CCS), located in Illinois, stored 0.52 MtCO2/yr in 2020, the latest year of data available. 

Estimates indicate that approximately 19,000 additional tonnes of CO2 removal (0.019 MtCO2) were delivered in 2020 through voluntary carbon removal purchases. However, data is incomplete and includes only what is reported publicly. This brings total carbon removal to an estimated 0.541 MtCO2 in 2020 — less than 1% of the amount of carbon removal expected to be needed by 2030.

Scaling up technological carbon removal at a rate that puts us on track for multi-gigatonne scale removal by 2050 and aligns with climate goals means we will likely need 75 MtCO2/year of carbon removal by 2030 and 4,500 MtCO2/year by 2050. 

The recent rate of progress in scaling up technological carbon removal needs to accelerate significantly to reach 75 MtCO2/year by 2030. However, interest and investment in carbon removal is accelerating rapidly, so the rate of change will likely go faster in the future compared to what is happening today.

Enablers and barriers

We monitor momentum by tracking a set of 8 factors factor that can enable or prevent progress. Explore the data and learn about key actions driving progress.

Total public spending on carbon removal research, development and demonstration

Innovation
A handful of countries have already increased federal funding for development of carbon removal technologies, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, but much more will be needed.

Government investment in RD&D is necessary to develop a wide range of carbon removal technologies and optimize the ones we have today. With a diverse portfolio of carbon removal technologies, we can minimize risks associated with any one approach and reduce overall costs. 

A handful of countries have already increased federal funding for development of carbon removal technologies, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, but much more will be needed. 

In the United States alone, multiple reports point to the need for around $10 billion in RD&D funding over 10 years. U.S. government funding for carbon removal RD&D grew from almost zero before 2020 to $60 million in 2020, $90 million in 2021 and $129 million in 2022.

Comprehensive data on the total government funding for carbon removal RD&D is not available but is important to track in addition to the number of countries to provide an accurate understanding of political and financial support, given that spending by country can vary considerably.

Number of governments investing in carbon removal research, development and demonstration

Innovation
Based on available data, seven countries are providing government RD&D for carbon removal in 2022, up from one in 2019.

Government investment in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) is necessary to develop a wide range of carbon removal technologies and optimize the ones we have today. With a diverse portfolio of carbon removal technologies, we can minimize risks associated with any one approach and reduce overall costs. 

A handful of countries have already increased federal funding for development of carbon removal technologies, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, but much more will be needed. 

Based on available data, seven countries are providing government RD&D for carbon removal in 2022, up from one in 2019.

Number of governments providing carbon removal deployment support

Regulation and Incentives
Based on available data, six countries are providing carbon removal deployment support in 2022.

Government support for deployment of carbon removal technologies is important because carbon removal technologies are costly, and opportunities for direct revenue are limited since carbon removal is ultimately a public good. 

Deployment support can come through a variety of channels, such as investment or production tax credits, loans, grants, tax-advantaged financing structures, government procurement of products made with captured CO2, or direct government procurement of carbon removal, among others.

Governments in developed economies have a particular responsibility to scale up carbon removal capacity given their higher levels of total historical emissions. 

For example, the United States’ 45Q tax credit, created in 2008, provides support for carbon that is sequestered geologically or used in products. The credit value for DAC increased in 2022 from $35–50/tCO2 to $130–180/tCO2. The U.S. Federal Carbon Removal Leadership Act would also require increasing levels of government procurement of tonnes of removed carbon. In 2022, Canada created an investment tax credit that covers 60% of investments for carbon removal infrastructure. 

Based on public documentation and announcements, at least six countries — Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and the United States — are providing carbon removal deployment support in 2022.

Number of governments providing funding carbon removal enabling infrastructure

Regulation and Incentives
New infrastructure, such as geologic sequestration facilities and CO2 transport systems, will be needed to enable the scale-up of carbon removal technologies. Based on available data, five countries are providing support for enabling infrastructure for carbon removal.

New infrastructure, such as geologic sequestration facilities and CO2 transport systems, will be needed to enable the scale-up of carbon removal technologies. For DAC and BECCS, CO2 pipelines or transport infrastructure by rail, barge or other means would be required when CO2 is captured in a different location from sequestration or use. 

The United States, where the vast majority of global CO2 transport happens, has 5,200 miles of CO2 pipelines, but estimates suggest 30,00065,000 miles are needed in the United States alone, with the total also dependent on the amount of point-source carbon capture and storage deployed for mitigation purposes. 

Global geologic sequestration capacity is estimated to be thousands of billions of tonnes, but research and assessment will be needed for site-specific characterization. In the United States, for example, legal and regulatory issues related to pore space ownership and long-term site monitoring for leakage or other liabilities must be clarified, and expedited permitting processes could allow faster project timelines. 

Many carbon removal technologies will also require power from renewable sources or zero-carbon energy. Since renewable energy will be necessary to decarbonize the grid and to electrify other sectors like buildings and transport, the energy capacity for carbon removal will have to be added to the build-out needed in other sectors. Maximizing near-term emissions reductions to reduce long-term dependence on carbon removal would mean less additional renewable energy capacity dedicated to carbon removal. 

Based on available data, five countries are providing support for enabling infrastructure for carbon removal as of 2022.

Number of companies purchasing carbon removal credits

Leadership
Along with federal funding, private investment will need to assume a major role in the scale-up of carbon removal technologies. Based on available data, 72 companies have purchased tonnes of carbon removal.

Along with federal funding, private investment will need to assume a major role in the scale-up of carbon removal technologies. As more corporations put forward net-zero pledges, many will turn to these technologies to meet their targets. 

Some companies and organizations are already purchasing tonnes of carbon dioxide removal or making commitments to do so later. Although data is incomplete, public records indicate that about $55 million in carbon removal tonnes have been purchased since 2020. 

Private capital through investment funds is beginning to flow: Lowercarbon Capital raised $350 million to invest in carbon removal start-ups, and Bill Gates’ Catalyst fund aims to leverage $15 billion to advance four technologies, including DAC. Frontier, run by a coalition of technology companies, is an advance market commitment to purchase $925 million in permanent carbon removal by 2030. 

However, it’s crucial to make sure that corporate commitments don’t result in an overreliance on carbon removal and that companies reduce emissions as much as possible and don’t use carbon removal as a replacement for emissions reduction. The level of emissions reduction versus carbon removal will vary by company — a company producing cement will likely have a harder time reducing emissions than a company with emissions predominantly from electricity. 

Along these lines, the Science Based Targets initiative released corporate net-zero guidance in late 2021 that companies on the path to net-zero must reduce at least 90% of their emissions and use carbon removal only for the remaining 5–10%

Additionally, it’s important for carbon removed to be sequestered over very long durations. 

Based on available data, 72 companies have purchased tonnes of carbon removal as of mid-2022. We have not yet assessed the permanence and quality of these tonnes. 

Total corporate spending on carbon removal credits

Leadership
Data is insufficient to track the level of corporate investment in carbon removal today, as the details of many purchases are proprietary.

Along with federal funding, private investment will need to assume a major role in the scale-up of carbon removal technologies. As more corporations put forward net-zero pledges, many will turn to these technologies to meet their targets. 

Some companies and organizations are already purchasing tonnes of carbon dioxide removal or making commitments to do so later. Although data is incomplete, public records indicate that private sector purchases come to about $55 million in carbon removal tonnes delivered since 2020. We have not yet assessed the permanence and quality of these tonnes.

Private capital through investment funds is beginning to flow: Lowercarbon Capital raised $350 million to invest in carbon removal start-ups, and Bill Gates’ Catalyst fund aims to leverage $15 billion for advancing four technologies, including direct air capture. Frontier, run by a coalition of technology companies, is an advance market commitment to purchase $925 million in permanent carbon removal by 2030. 

However, it’s crucial to make sure that corporate commitments don’t result in an overreliance on carbon removal and that companies reduce emissions as much as possible. The level of emissions reduction versus carbon removal will vary by company – a company producing cement will likely have a harder time reducing emissions than a company with emissions predominantly from electricity. 

Along these lines, the Science Based Targets initiative released corporate net-zero guidance in late 2021 that companies on the path to net-zero must reduce at least 90% of their emissions and use carbon removal only for the remaining 5-10%

Data is insufficient to track the total amount of corporate purchases of carbon removal credits, as the details or some purchases are proprietary. Tracking total spending on carbon removal credits along with the number of the companies purchasing is important, as the amount of spending will vary significantly by company.

Number of governments that require consideration of equity and sustainability in their carbon removal investments

Strong Institutions
As interest and investment in carbon removal technologies grow, regulations and governance structures will need to be created and strengthened to ensure the industry expands equitably and sustainably.

As interest and investment in carbon removal technologies grow, regulations and governance structures will need to be created and strengthened to ensure the industry expands equitably and sustainably.

At the local level, this will require an understanding of the risks, trade-offs and potential benefits (such as local job creation) of each approach. This information will help facilitate scale-up in such a way that the burden of carbon removal on people and the environment, as well as its potential benefits, are equitably distributed.

Improving existing governance structures could include a range of interventions at many levels — international, national, state and project — from the public and private sector. National governments can include stipulations around project sustainability, environmental impact and community engagement. 

For example, forthcoming funding in the United States for large-scale DAC projects and geologic sequestration projects will require reporting on environmental impacts, environmental justice, community engagement and consent-based siting, and equity and workforce development. Sub-national governments can ensure that zoning and infrastructure regulations prioritize equity and sustainability. International institutions can strengthen data and inventory systems, ensure robust accounting rules and increase cooperation. 

Comprehensive data to track this indicator is not available.

Number of companies that consider equity and sustainability in their carbon removal investments

Strong Institutions
It is important to scale up carbon removal technologies that provide a climate benefit while minimizing environmental and social harms.

As the number of companies purchasing carbon removal credits increases, it is vital to understand the quality of these credits in terms of their level of sustainability and social impact. It will be important to scale up carbon removal technologies that provide a climate benefit while minimizing environmental and social harms. 

As the carbon removal industry develops, companies have the opportunity to set high standards for social, equity and environmental considerations of the projects they invest in. Given the nascency of the industry, this can also set precedent for project developers and for other companies entering the space in the future. 

As an example, Microsoft, which has been a first mover in investing in carbon removal, published criteria for high-quality carbon removal that includes requirements to both minimize and manage environmental harm and demonstrate prioritization of environmental justice.

Comprehensive data to track this indicator is not available, as criteria behind corporate purchases are not always publicly available.

Data Challenges

Centralized and comprehensive data on carbon removal and the changes needed in policy and investment to accelerate its scale up are limited, as carbon removal technologies are an emerging industry. Data shown throughout the carbon removal technologies sector is based on manual aggregation across many sources and only represents what information is publicly available, so may not be fully representative of everything that is happening on the ground.