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IASS Factsheet

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Carbon Dioxide Removal What is carbon dioxide removal? Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) refers to a set of pro- posals for actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to limit global warming and its effects. Also known as negative emissions technologies, these proposals would, if implemented on a global scale, reduce the rate at which the climate is warming, as well as limiting ocean acidification. The main pro- posed technologies include afforestation, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, biochar, direct air capture, enhanced weathering, and ocean fertilisation. Why is carbon dioxide removal being discussed? To limit the threat of global warming, at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, world leaders agreed to limit temperature rise to well below 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels. This goal pre- supposes a peak in global greenhouse gas emissions by around 2020, followed by rapid decarbonisation to net zero emissions and the stabilisation of greenhouse gas levels by the second half of the century. Yet none of the major emitter countries has stringent mitiga- tion incentives or regulations in place that would put it on track to achieving such a drastic transformation of its economy within this timeframe. Given this dis- parity between the Paris Agreement goals and the societal difficulties anticipated with rapid emissions reductions, it is often assumed in socio-economic scenarios consistent with the 2 ° C limit that some forms of carbon dioxide removal will be needed to achieve the goals. Yet it is still unclear whether any of the proposed technologies, or a combination thereof, could be deployed on the scale and within the time- frame required to make a meaningful contribution to achieving the Paris Agreement targets. What is the state of research? Natural sciences and engineering All of the proposed carbon dioxide removal tech- nologies are still in early stages of development. Some exist as prototypes; others have been the subject of small-scale field-experimentation. Yet carbon dioxide removal in quantities that would contribute significantly to the Paris Agreement goals would require infrastructures comparable in scale to the major global carbon dioxide-emitting sectors, i.e. energy, agriculture, mining, and mass manufacturing. In many cases the individual components of this system – for example, mineral extraction facilities, pipelines, shipping, forestry, crop harvesting and processing – are already in place. However, the establishment of integrated systems, e.g. for direct air capture, followed by the instalment of mass production facilities to enable large-scale deploy- ment is likely to take several decades. Existing research in the natural sciences also points to other uncertainties, including potential changes to marine and terrestrial ecosystems due to the energy, land, and water requirements of the vari- ous proposals. Table 1: Summary of technologies for remov- ing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) Source: IASS Technology Brief description Afforestation Large-scale planting or replanting of forests Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) Burning biomass for energy generation and capturing and geologically storing the resulting CO2 Biochar Biomass burning under low-oxygen conditions (pyrolysis) to produce charcoal, which is then mixed in with soils to increase the soil carbon content Direct air capture (DAC) Capturing CO2 directly from the ambient air using chemical processes, followed by long-term storage, for example in underground reservoirs Enhanced weathering Enhancing natural weathering processes by extracting, grinding, and dispersing reactive minerals on land or the ocean Ocean fertilisation Fertilising parts of the ocean with nutrients to increase algal growth and CO2 uptake in an attempt to increase the rate at which carbon sinks to the seabed in dead algae and is thus removed from the climate system 2_IASS Fact Sheet 1/2017

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