Carbon Gap, an independent research and advocacy not-for-profit, has called on UK and European governments to lead on supporting and scaling up techniques to remove carbon directly from the air (referred to as carbon removal), alongside immediate and dramatic emissions cuts.
Launched at COP26 in Glasgow, Carbon Gap is shining a spotlight on the need to accelerate progress on carbon removal and the unique opportunities for European governments to lead in this crucial sector. This includes developing standards, investing in research and innovation, and providing deployment incentives. Carbon Gap also advocates for increased ambition to reach net-zero targets faster and begin delivering net-negative emissions, in order to address historical emissions already in the atmosphere.
Carbon Gap is funded by leading climate philanthropies, including the Quadrature Climate and Grantham foundations, and does not take funding from any corporate actors in order to ensure independence and objectivity.
“Carbon removal is essential, and while it isn’t a substitute for emissions cuts, it cannot wait. I’m proud to be supporting Carbon Gap to drive carbon removal policy in Europe. Taking climate change seriously requires significant government action, and Carbon Gap will be a leading voice for how carbon removal can begin to scale quickly and responsibly,” said Baroness Bryony Worthington, lead author of the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act.
Carbon removal involves taking carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans and storing it safely, for example in vegetation, soils, rocks, deep sea sediments, and even in the built environment. Techniques range from soil carbon sequestration and tree planting to engineered Direct Air Capture or the long-term storage of biogenic carbon such as agricultural waste. Carbon removal is distinct from carbon capture and storage technologies, which can help to reduce emissions but may involve the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, unlike carbon removal.
Carbon Gap points to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenarios for keeping warming below 1.5°C, which show that billions of tons of carbon dioxide need to be removed from the atmosphere cumulatively before 2050, and on an ongoing basis after 2050. More recent analysis from the Energy Transition Commission showed the need for 220 billion tons of cumulative CO2 removed from the atmosphere and stored by 2050, the equivalent to five to six years of today’s emissions. Given increased recognition of carbon removal’s role in achieving climate targets and the increased urgency for action, Carbon Gap believes carbon removal will move from the periphery of the climate debate to join emissions reductions as another major pillar in achieving our climate goals. It expects to see a focus on carbon removal at COP27 in Egypt in 2022.
Carbon Gap’s policy work will also focus on ensuring that the carbon removal industry is a lever for economic development and global climate justice. While carbon removal is a critical part of addressing climate change, standards and norms must be developed to ensure that carbon removal projects deliver value to local communities, including those in the Global South, and that carbon removal not be used by major polluters as justification for slowing investment in reducing their own emissions and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Carbon Gap spokesperson Eli Mitchell-Larson said: “By using a variety of carbon removal approaches, we can reduce the amount of planet-warming carbon in the atmosphere earlier and faster, turning back the clock on climate change and supporting good jobs and local communities in the process.
“We have eight years to halve emissions, and 28 years to continue dramatic emission cuts while also rapidly scaling up the removal of carbon from the atmosphere in order to achieve net-zero, stay within our carbon budget, and keep peak warming below 1.5 degrees. We need to act now to ensure that we have time to research, develop, and deploy new and existing carbon removal techniques, at scale, safely, affordably, and sustainably. If we wait until 2030, it will be too late – we need policy action in Europe now.”
Carbon Gap launched officially in Glasgow at COP26 on Sunday 7 November. Over 70 participants from 15 countries and five continents gathered for a series of interactive workshops to create a roadmap for scaling carbon removal by 2030. Delegates included environmental groups, carbon removal entrepreneurs, leading scientists, and policymakers. Keynote remarks on the importance of removals were shared by Baroness Bryony Worthington and Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC).
Mitchell-Larson added: “The successful launch of Carbon Gap shows the incredible appetite for more action on carbon removal from the environmental community, the business community, and policymakers. We’re looking forward to working with governments to help them understand how they can be early leaders on this important topic.”