Carbon removal now critical to hitting climate goals, scientists tell COP28

Most of the world’s countries agreed on a significant new renewable energy push at the UN’s COP28 climate summit over the weekend, but scientists warned that overshooting the 1.5°C threshold — beyond which climate disasters will become more frequent and intense — is now almost “inevitable.”

Why it matters: The findings, published in the annual 10 New Insights in Climate Science report, suggest that cutting emissions alone is no longer enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change — the world will now also need to scale up carbon removal technology. 

  • Our capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will need to more than double by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the report said.

  • That will require a major scale-up and deployment of manmade carbon removal technologies, which today only account for 0.1% of carbon removal (with natural sinks, like forests, accounting for the rest).

Catch up: Carbon removal technologies, including direct air carbon capture and storage and bio-oil injection, are able to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, but they’re also very expensive to operate.

  • It currently costs around US$1,000 to remove one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere using direct air capture. According to some estimates, that needs to fall to around US$200 per ton for it to be commercially viable.

  • Even if costs fall, scientists caution, carbon removal will have to be coupled with steep emissions reductions to keep temperatures from rising above 2°C by the end of the century.

Zoom out: Despite the grim warnings delivered to COP28, there are some signs of progress, too: The cost of renewable energy is plummeting faster than expected, wind and solar will generate 12% of global electricity this year, and investment in clean energy will nearly double investments in fossil fuels this year.—TS