There is broad scientific consensus that, along with emissions reductions, carbon dioxide removal (CDR, or carbon removal) will be needed to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, the most ambitious global temperature goal established by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by midcentury and net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions thereafter.

More than 90 countries, representing more than 75% of global GHG emissions, have committed to national net-zero targets, often included in countries’ long-term low-emission development strategies (LTSs). These long-term climate plans demonstrate an increasing interest and planned use of technological CDR methods, which are still in the early stages of development and deployment, supported by rapidly increasing public and private investment. As of the end of May 2023, 26 of the 62 LTSs submitted to the UNFCCC either plan to, or are considering, use of technological carbon removal.

Map showing countries interested in using technological carbon removal per their long-term strategy.

However, there is little guidance on how countries can and should incorporate technological CDR in their climate plans as well as how these plans can help ensure that technological CDR is scaled up equitably and sustainably. Many questions remain about how much CDR will be needed, who will pay and who will benefit, and how to ensure high-quality measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

This paper examines questions about governing technological carbon removal methods, proposes potential avenues for resolving emerging challenges, and explores the role that existing international bodies and processes may be able to play in resolution. The three emerging challenges analyzed in the paper include the following:

  • Mitigation deterrence is the idea that focusing attention and investment on carbon removal today may divert attention and investment from the urgent need to reduce emissions in the near term, by providing a false sense of security that these technologies will provide future large-scale mitigation. Several strategies can help the global community confront this challenge.
  • Ensuring equity in the distribution of carbon removal deployment—including who pays for projects and who benefits from them—will be important to ensure that countries who did the least to cause the climate crisis do not end up hosting projects that do not benefit them. Multinational collaboration can help create more equitable access to carbon removal technologies and associated benefits.
  • MRV processes underpin any efforts to quantify and report carbon removal, such as voluntary markets where carbon credits are bought and sold. However, the MRV ecosystem that exists today for technological carbon removal is fragmented and not standardized, in part because the industry is relatively new. Developing and improving MRV to ensure that it is credible and consistent will be critical for building trust in the industry.

The paper aims to inform research and orient civil society, academic, and other groups focused on supporting responsible scale-up of technological carbon removal, as well as international bodies able to implement guidance that countries may use as they develop plans for technological CDR deployment.

The goal of this work is to spur discussion among stakeholders interested in, or supporting development of, carbon removal policy, including those working with or in international bodies responsible for guiding and overseeing international climate planning.


Thumbnail image by Climeworks