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What are carbon removals and why do we need them to reach our climate goals?



Picture of Luis Schneider

Luis Schneider

Trees on a slope

As the term suggests, carbon removals, also known as carbon dioxide removals (CDR), are nature-based or technological methods of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and result in negative CO₂ emissions.

The Paris Climate Agreement calls for limiting man-made global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, or even 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Why exactly 1.5 °C?

According to climate scientists, a global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is the limit to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that the atmosphere can only absorb 313 gigatons (Gt) of CO₂ to stay below the 1.5 degree limit. In 2020, about 36 gigatons of CO₂ were emitted globally. If we assume that the world will continue to emit this much CO₂, the CO₂ budget will be used up in less than nine years. Therefore, reducing our CO₂ emissions alone is not enough to achieve the climate targets.


As you can see from the graph, we cannot reduce our carbon footprint fast enough through conventional methods, such as renewable energy, to reach "net zero" by 2050. Carbon removals are needed to offset the unavoidable emissions.

Carbon removal varies depending on how the CO₂ is removed from the air and for how long it is then stored. Often these two characteristics are related. A distinction can be made between nature-based methods, such as forestry projects, and machine-based methods, such as direct air capture (DAC). Nature-based methods store CO₂ for a shorter period of time than machine-based methods. However, they are more efficient and scalable. Machine-based methods such as DAC are still in the early stages of development, have low CO₂ storage volumes, and have extremely high development and construction costs. focuses on forest projects. As trees grow, they convert CO₂ to biomass through photosynthesis. A mature tree can absorb up to 22 kilograms of carbon from the atmosphere per year and at the same time producing enough oxygen for four people per day. Furthermore, CO₂ projects with forest owners have additional environmental benefits, such as purifying drinking water and protecting the livelihoods of a wide range of animal and plant species.

IPCC - Why exactly 1.5 °C?