Why CO₂ Matters…


Since the beginning of the industrial age, humankind has emitted approximately 2,400 Gigatons (Billion Tons) of Carbon Dioxide into our environment through the burning of fossil fuels in power generation, transportation, manufacturing, etc.  Indirect anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide emissions have also come from the destruction of natural carbon sinks such as rainforests and arctic tundra.  Approximately 950 Gigatons of this went into the atmosphere where it remains with the rest being absorbed by oceans and land.[1] This has created a level of CO₂ saturation in ambient environmental air that is the highest it has been in over 800,000 years – currently between 390 and 400 ppm.[2]  Since Carbon Dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, this unprecedented increase will undoubtedly contribute to global warming and all the comorbid negative consequences thereof for humanity – both known and unknown.


Carbon removal, also known as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), is the process of capturing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in plants, soils, oceans, geological features, or long-lived products like cement.  Scientists have proposed many different methods of carbon removal.  Some of these are already in use at relatively small scales, whereas others remain in the early stages of research and development.  Technologies and practices for implementing carbon removal are often called negative emissions technologies or NETs.[3]


Carbon removal is important because somewhere between 15% – 40% of the CO₂ that humanity emits will remain in the atmosphere for up to a thousand years, with 10–25% of it persisting for tens of thousands of years.  Removing and sequestering that CO₂ could permanently reduce climate risk by slowing or even reversing climate change.  It will be very difficult to meet ambitious climate change mitigation goals without large-scale carbon removal.[4]

Carbon removal is set to grow in visibility and importance, particularly as the U.S.  Government considers the findings of a new National Academy of Sciences report arguing for a carbon removal research agenda and the international community considers carbon removal as part of rule-making under the Paris Agreement on climate change.


In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the international community committed itself to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” In their Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examined 116 scenarios in which society is likely to meet that 2°C goal and found that 101 of them involve net negative emissions later this century, meaning that society would be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it is emitting.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming identifies Carbon Removal as crucial to meeting the 1.5°C target and is only feasible through very large-scale carbon removal projects.[5]


[1] (The World Counts, 2021)
[2] (The American University, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, 2021)
[3] (The American University, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, 2021)
[4] (The American University, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, 2021)
[5] (The American University, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, 2021)