What is carbon removal? 

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), also called carbon removal, is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it. Carbon has naturally circulated from the atmosphere to forests, soils and oceans for millennia as part of the carbon cycle, but CO2 concentrations have steadily increased since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon removal seeks to accelerate and augment the natural carbon cycle to reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. 

 

Why is carbon removal necessary? 

The world faces a dwindling “carbon budget,” which is the amount of CO2 emissions that humanity can emit in the future while still having a likely chance of limiting global temperature rise to a given target (1.5 degrees C, or 2.7 degrees F, per the Paris Agreement). However, many models indicate that emissions reduction alone will not achieve the 1.5°C target. Along with deep reductions in the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere, it is essential to implement carbon removal solutions, continue expanding the range of solutions and scale up deployment for decades to come. 

 

Is large-scale carbon removal possible?  

Some carbon removal approaches like tree restoration can be deployed at large scales today, but require supportive policies to incentivize implementation. Other approaches that are at earlier stages of development, like direct air capture, would benefit from policy support to accelerate deployment of existing systems, continued research and development, and best practices and safeguards to ensure responsible scale up. These investments are necessary to ensure that approaches in development today are readily available when they are needed in coming decades. 

 

What are the effects of carbon removal? 

Carbon removal has the potential to provide benefits for people and ecosystems, beyond reducing atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Some land sector approaches help improve soil health, agricultural productivity, and air quality; protect water resources; and benefit other ecosystem services. Approaches that are in earlier stages of development will also require development of good governance and policy safeguards to ensure safe and prudent deployment and avoid competition for energy, land or water resources, or disruption of natural ecosystems. 

 

What’s the difference between carbon capture and carbon removal? 

Carbon capture is a technological process, available since the 1970s, that captures carbon dioxide emissions at the source, such as power plants and industrial facilities, before it enters the atmosphere.  Although only 13 commercial-scale carbon capture projects were in operation in the United States as of 2020, 30 new projects have been announced since the introduction of the 45Q tax credit in 2018. 

Carbon removal methods remove excess carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Strategies take numerous forms, from land management practices to new technologies to hybrid approaches. While some practices are deployment-ready at scale today (tree restoration), others require additional RD&D, face resource or logistical constraints, or require adoption and sustained action by landowners.