For decades, the fight against climate change has focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it is now clear that these measures on their own—however rapidly they accelerate—will no longer be enough to prevent dangerous climate change. We must now also urgently take carbon out of the atmosphere.
The new blockbuster climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations makes two things startlingly clear. First, we must massively accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy. This will require rapid system-wide transformations in the way we build our cities, generate energy, grow food and manufacture goods. And second, we must capture carbon right out of the air.
The report finds that all pathways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) rely on carbon removal.
It may sound like science fiction, but it's not. Last month, World Resources Institute published a series of research papers that offer a clear-eyed view of the challenges and opportunities of six ways to remove carbon from ambient air. The assessment shows that far from being optional or a distraction, carbon removal, combined with reducing emissions, is critical to limit warming and ensure a safer future.
The obvious starting point is to use nature. Trees have been storing carbon in trunks and roots for millions of years. By restoring forests and degraded lands and using smarter farming practices, we can capture much more. There is overwhelming evidence that these natural solutions can pay for themselves quickly, improving food security, creating jobs, reducing poverty and extracting billions of tons of carbon.
Carbon is simply too valuable to leave it up in the sky!