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.