The world needs large-scale investments in new technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could play a pivotal role in stabilizing the global climate by mid-century. WRI helped make this case to the U.S. government, which has allocated funding for carbon removal for the first time.

The Challenge

To keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse emissions will need to peak by 2030 and fall to net zero by 2050. But due to greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, the world also must remove about a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2100 to stabilize global temperature at this level. While some natural approaches to carbon removal, such as forest and landscape restoration, are ready to deploy today, technological approaches like direct air capture require more research and development. Until now, the U.S. federal government had not focused on such technologies but has a critical role to play in the research and development these technologies will need to reach scale.

WRI’s Role

Since 2017, WRI and partners have conducted technology and policy assessment on carbon removal and worked to bring it into the climate policy debate in the United States. Informed by the National Academy of Sciences’ carbon removal research agenda, WRI worked with other large environmental NGOs like Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy to translate the Academy’s recommendations into a series of appropriations requests that were sent in a joint letter to members of Congress. WRI also moderated a briefing for several congressional offices alongside staff from the National Academy of Sciences and others, and worked with the offices of champions like Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Senator Diane Feinstein of California to engage with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, a key decision-making body. Other partners including Carbon180, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Energy Futures Initiative played key roles in helping Congressional staff to translate the Academies’ recommendations into policy.

The Outcome

In December 2019, U.S. House and Senate appropriators provided $60 million, the first dedicated funding for carbon removal technology development. Congress can build on this critical first step to scale up the most promising technologies and lower the cost of carbon removal. As the United States pursues this strategy, these technologies can be transferred to other geographies to help government and companies achieve targets to become carbon-neutral, and eventually carbon-negative.