About this Research Topic
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Climate models reveal that in order to prevent 2°C warming by 2100, we will need to deploy negative emissions up to 20 Gt CO2 per year beyond midcentury. Negative emission approaches span a portfolio ranging from planting trees, advanced agricultural practices for increasing soil carbon storage, enhancing the mineralization of CO2 with alkaline-rich rocks from the Earth’s crust, firing biomass for electricity generation and coupling to carbon capture at the exhaust, to engineering energy-intensive systems that use chemicals that selectively react with CO2 from air. Collectively, these approaches presently amount to, at best, millions of tonnes of removal each year. To meet climate goals, this has to increase by 1000 to 10,000 times what it is currently. What are feasible pathways that will move the needle toward significant accelerated carbon removal? Some approaches will require more research and development, while others are ready to deploy today at increased scale. Their requirements for achieving significant adoption and deployment may differ, which indicates a solution that spans a broad range of resources, and potentially incentivized by a complex mix of philanthropy, investment, and policy.
The choices that are made today on what approaches to incentivize may have consequences for decades, which may not be completely predictable until deployment at global scale. For instance, ‘natural’ solutions at small scale may be considerably cheaper, contain numerous other benefits, and are thus an obvious choice for incentivization. However, focusing solely on these approaches will likely become problematic once scaled to their limits (e.g., land area, stability of storage), which makes it essential to launch sustained research efforts to drive down the cost for more expensive approaches (e.g., direct air capture, or mineralization) that have greater scalability and storage security.
Philanthropy may provide support for research projects, assisting scientists and engineers to assess the technical, social, and environmental feasibility of their technologies. Similarly, for-profit impact investing in the deployment of new projects at scale will help with ‘learning by doing’, particularly when combined with the demand signal of commercial sequestration purchasing despite high initial cost. Together, venture investment and commercial demand may subsequently provide feedback to the research and development stage, or onward to further deployment on an increased scale coupled to the realization of lower costs.
Policy can help provide the required economic incentives to kickstart and expand deployment and may also be used to leverage funding for early adopters who have an interest in making their own operations and practices carbon neutral (on the pathway to carbon negative). Decarbonization of many sectors such as building materials (steel and cement), heating, and transportation, as well as changes to the way we live may take decades, and in some cases are unlikely to be completely reduced.
Large companies with aggressive climate action plans are also beginning to reimagine what climate action looks like in a world that requires large-scale negative emissions. Many corporate sustainability executives recognize the dubious climate benefits of many conventional offsetting approaches, but are just beginning to chart an alternative pathway forward that relies on strategies to catalyze innovation in the carbon removal field with the goal of creating robustly-accredited, low-cost carbon removal credits that do not (yet) exist today.
In this Research Topic, we invite submissions from a broad group of stakeholders who are eager to move the needle on advancing negative emissions to the tens of gigaton scale by mid-century. We are asking questions with answers that are likely not straightforward, but may illuminate the way for others who are facing similar challenges. Are barriers to scale-up related to geophysical limitations, limited availability of low-cost and low-carbon energy, supply chain limitations? We are also interested in learning more from this unique group of what mistakes were made and learned from. Many of the companies at the forefront of deployment today have been pushing against barriers of scale-up over the last decade. How might things be done differently in light of all that has been learned? If barriers are removed, what are societal co-benefits of scale-up? What types of jobs will be created as a result and what will the new labor force require in terms of skills? What are risks they perceive or experience both to their enterprise and the different communities that interact with their technologies and interventions? How have they managed or plan to manage these risks?
Finally, what will it take to move the needle on your particular approach to negative emissions? How might policy, philanthropy, purchasing, and investing be leveraged to accelerate deployment? Particularly, we welcome perspectives from the commercial or near-commercial-stage companies who are on the leading edge of advancing carbon removal at scale. These authors’ perspectives may range from removal strategies associated with mineral, biological and chemical-based approaches. Collective support from philanthropy, venture investors, large corporate purchasers, and policy makers may be needed, but how much support, at what time, and in what form? In each perspective, pathways of achieving key results associated with CO2 removal from air at scale will be shared.
Ryan Orbuch from Stripe has contributed to this scope and it has been approved by the Chief Editor. He has had no influence on the editorial decisions for manuscripts in the Research Topic.
Keywords: climate goals, negative emissions, corporate responsibility, scaling-up, investment, deployment
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