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COP27, the annual climate change conference hosted by the United Nations, concluded last month in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with one of the main discussions centering around a new agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding to vulnerable countries that are experiencing the worst effects of climate change. As part of this pledge to assist countries in adapting to the climate crisis, stakeholders have reached the consensus that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is now an “essential” piece to meeting the world’s global warming targets. 1

The past few years have seen increasing calls for countries in the Global North, which have historically been the world’s largest emitters, to integrate not only emissions reductions into their climate plans but removal of the pollution they have already added to the atmosphere. 2 Without this additional step of removal, the timeframe to achieve carbon neutrality gets awfully small. According to the findings of the latest Global Carbon Budget, which calculates emissions limits based on the warming targets set forth in the Paris Agreement, the remaining carbon budget will expire within nine years if current trends continue. 1

Carbon removal can be achieved in a number of ways, including via technological solutions such as direct air capture (DAC), which uses chemical reactions to extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere, and nature-based solutions such as reforestation, regenerative agriculture, and wetland restoration, all of which act to trap carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere. 3. Both technological solutions and nature-based solutions (NbS) were promoted throughout the conference, including:

  • The Enhancing Nature-based Solutions for Climate Transformation (ENACT) initiative, a collaboration between the Egyptian COP27 Presidency, Germany, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature which aims to protect and sustainably manage 2.4 billion hectares of natural and agricultural ecosystems while significantly increasing global efforts to mitigate climate change through the conservation and restoration of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems that are rich in carbon. 3
  • The launch of the CDR Launchpad, a coalition of countries that have pledged to work together to advance carbon dioxide removal initiatives. Member countries will aim to establish a carbon dioxide removal project that can remove more than 1,000 tons of CO2 per year by 2025. 4
  • The introduction of the 2030 Breakthrough for carbon removals by Nigel Topping, the UN’s High Level Champion for COP26, which seeks to shift from discussion to action by establishing goals and outlining the efforts of various stakeholders to achieve them.
  • Commitments from national and local governments, including legislation submitted by Luxembourg to incentivize investment in negative emissions technologies such as DAC, and by Massachusetts and California announcing laws supportive of carbon removal. 1
  • The release of a roadmap by the Biden Administration in support of nature-based policies that promote the protection, conservation, and sustainable management of terrestrial carbon sinks including wetlands, fisheries, and forests. 5

Additionally, the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) presented draft text for carbon removal in Article VI of the Paris Agreement. Earlier draft text had proposed net-negative (as opposed to simply net-zero) climate commitments from developed countries, although these proposals have been postponed until next year’s conference. 4

While the “loss and damage” fund would presumably contribute to carbon removal efforts across the spectrum in addition to a number of other adaptation initiatives, the actual financing is still up for debate: the total size of the fund, and which countries will contribute to it, will also not be determined until COP28. 6 Some experts have estimated the true cost of effectively supporting vulnerable countries in their adaptation efforts to be in the “trillions.” 7

If you want to learn more about carbon capture technology and nature-based solutions, check out our recent article for a more in-depth discussion of the reality of carbon capture.

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