The Positive Side of Negative Emissions

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Tom Berg
Energy Policies
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In recent years, awareness has grown on the need for CO2 removal to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, and companies are increasingly looking to include negative emissions in corporate climate strategies. As a part of Navigant, Ecofys finds that sufficient scalable and affordable options for negative emissions exist, and that instead of being a burden, they carry many environmental and social co-benefits.

The Need for CO2 Removal

A key element of Paris-consistent scenarios are technologies that enable the removal of CO2 (greenhouse gases [GHG]) from the atmosphere, which need to absorb up to 3 GtCO2 per year as soon as 2030 to meet the “well below 2˚C target.” This is comparable in scale to roughly all of the European Union’s current annual CO2 emissions. The rationale of engaging in CO2 removal (CDR) is threefold:

  1. Even the most ambitious mitigation strategies will see residual emissions in hard-to-abate sectors, such as aviation or agriculture, and in order to reach net-zero emissions around mid-century, compensation with CDR is essential.
  2. The speed at which global emissions are reduced is limited because of inertia in the global energy system, but with CDR this process can be accelerated. An immediate, steep downward trajectory is needed to avoid overshooting climate targets and to avoid more negative emissions later this century—CDR can support such a trajectory.
  3. CDR puts a cap to the cost of emissions reductions, thereby improving the cost-efficiency and feasibility of achieving carbon budgets.

This makes CDR especially relevant for organisations that will play a key role in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, such as energy-intensive industries, agriculture and food companies, and governments. Through studies for the UN Environment Programme and the UK Committee on Climate Change (amongst others), Ecofys, a Navigant company, is at the forefront of developments in this field. The team observed that these projects often carry more benefits than their potential to draw carbon from the atmosphere.

A Worthwhile Investment

Methods for GHG removal are incredibly diverse, and some options are already being deployed at limited scale, while others are facing obstacles or may appear futuristic, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or the direct capture of carbon from the atmosphere. Given the multiple co-benefits CDR can deliver, some of the more developed methods are frequently referred to as no-regret options and reflect the social, environmental, and financial ROI that may result from their application. Such options are illustrated in the figure below.

Environmental benefits of CO2 removal options (c) Ecofys - A Navigant Company

Looking at opportunities with investment costs <$20/tCO­2, the global potential for these methods is estimated at 4.1 GtCO2/yr in 2030, which indicates that a significant share of the 3 GtCO2/year removal needed by 2030 to meet the well below 2˚C target could be achieved through the discussed methods. The examples provided illustrate that, while beneficial to the environment and people, CDR can make economic sense as well. However, it should be noted that business cases may differ strongly between regions and policy context, meaning that opportunities for negative emissions should be identified on a case-by-case basis—first within the scope of existing business activities and lastly by looking outward for other low-hanging fruits.

Get in touch with one of our experts to discover the potential options for CO­2 removal related to your business supply chains.

This blog post was originally posted to navigantresearch.com.

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