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Getting Climate Back on Track: More, Faster

27 Jun 2024 | Edward Young

5 MINUTES READ

Getting Climate Back on Track: More, Faster

We are not on the 1.5 °C pathway set forth by the Paris climate agreement. We are nowhere close. We are not even on the 2 °C pathway. We all need to stop burying our heads in the sand and have the courage to say that loudly and clearly. 

The second edition of the State of Carbon Dioxide Removal was recently released. It studies the entire landscape of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) across technologies and geographies, including Charm’s bio-oil sequestration pathway. The report, written by leading climate researchers from across the world, paints a sobering picture. And yet I still believe it manages to completely undersell the magnitude and urgency of the issue. We cannot hide behind the passive voice of technical, scientific writing. As a scientist, I understand the desire to title chapters like “Paris-consistent CDR scenarios” and “The CDR gap,” and provide thoughtful analysis of potential scenarios we can be on. 

But the scenarios presented in the State of CDR Removal report are not feasible unless we dramatically accelerate both CDR and decarbonization. We need an order of magnitude faster development of CDR and simultaneously a reversal of emissions.

The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal report is a 222 page tome. But you can understand the magnitude of the problem with two quotes from the report: 

In the Paris-consistent scenarios, the increase in total deployment of CDR by 2030… total CDR deployment increases to −4.0 (−3.9 to −4.4) GtCO2 per year, from a baseline of −2.1 GtCO2 per year in 2011–2020. Within these near-term increases in removals, only a minority (0.12 (0.05 to 0.3) GtCO2 per year) is delivered through novel CDR.

and

Alongside this scaling of CDR, the evaluated scenarios simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 (21–28) GtCO2e by 2030 and 41 (39–43) GtCO2e by 2050. This represents a significant break with the status quo observed to date of annual increases in global emissions.

Simply put, by 2030 we need 4 GtCO2/yr of removals and 25 GtCO2e reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Growing CDR from 2 to 4 GtCO2/yr by 2030

The report breaks CDR into two high level categories — conventional and novel. Conventional CDR comprises reforestation and afforestation (planting trees where trees where there was no recent tree cover). Novel CDR is anything else.

The number of credits issued for conventional CDR fell in 2023 from approximately 20.4 million to 13.3 million. There are significant headwinds for conventional CDR, primarily around durability and additionality. These headwinds make it exceedingly unlikely that conventional CDR will close the 2 GtCO2/yr gap needed to meet the 1.5 °C goal.

Novel CDR processes, like Charm’s bio-oil sequestration, are growing rapidly. But even with optimistic growth curves, the CDR community is not on a collective path to 2 GtCO2/yr. 

I re-plotted the reports plot showing removals in 2024-2030 by Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) companies, and I added a line for the required removals by 2030 to stay on the 1.5 °C pathway.

These two large technologies do not reach 0.12 GtCO2/yr. And while this plot does not include technologies like biochar, enhanced rock weathering, or Charm’s bio-oil sequestration, CDR.fyi reports that 11.5 Mt of removals have been sold in total across all years. That does not get us to the 2000 MtCO2 we need.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 GtCO2e/yr by 2030

In 2022, humans emitted over 50 GtCO2e of greenhouse gasses, and the major contributors are transport, buildings, industry, and agriculture. To stay on the 1.5 °C pathway, we need to halve our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Below is the plot of greenhouse gas emissions from the last 50 years

The line only goes up and up. If you are an optimist and squint, maybe the line has flattened. It is certainly not going down. And it is definitely not on track to go down by 25 GtCO2e/yr by 2030.

More Better and More Faster

At Charm, we are racing to remove as much carbon dioxide. We are building pyrolyzers as fast we can. We are optimizing our biomass processing and injecting bio-oil underground as fast as we can. We are hiring as fast as we can. At this pace, we are confident we can deliver meaningful removals for our customers, families, and ultimately the planet. But we need to pick up the pace even more, and so does everyone else working on climate.

The world needs renewable energy companies to develop and deploy faster. We need heavy industry to find low or no carbon pathways, even if it is difficult. We need sustainable food systems that minimize or even reverse the loss of carbon in our soils. Our transportation systems need to be converted from fossil fuel based to electricity based. We need governments to fund research into new technologies and to incentivize the deployment of the best ideas. 

We at Charm – alongside the CDR community – will sprint towards providing additional gigatons of annual removals. We are growing exponentially. We know there are many around the world sprinting towards decarbonizing all different sectors of our economy. We need decarbonization to grow exponentially as well! 

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Edward Young

Head of Research

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