UN climate report: Carbon removal is now “essential”

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UN climate report: Carbon removal is now ‘essential’
MIT Technology Review, April 4, 2022
Climate Change
By James Temple and Casey Crownhart

“Removing the greenhouse gas from the air will likely be necessary, along with radical emissions cuts, to keep temperatures from rising 2˚C.”


A bleak new report from the UN’s climate panel underscores the price the world is paying for the long delays in addressing global warming despite decades of warnings.


Last year, worldwide energy-related carbon dioxide topped 36 billion tons, setting a new record as the global economy sprang back from the depths of the pandemic.


As emissions continue to rise, the levels of greenhouse gas the world can still release before pushing the planet past very dangerous warming thresholds has become alarmingly tight, warns the report released on Monday. This means that cutting emissions alone almost certainly won’t be enough, it finds. The world will also need to create the infrastructure, systems, and policies required to suck billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the air annually.


“Carbon dioxide removal is essential to achieve net zero [greenhouse-gas emissions],” Diána Ürge-Vorsatz, vice-chair of the working group that produced the nearly 3,000-page report, said during a conference call on Monday.


The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a series of sweeping reports for policymakers, assessing the state of the science and the mounting risks of global warming. The latest report, the third part of the IPCC’s sixth major assessment, evaluates the current set of options for slowing emissions and limiting the impact of climate change.


The report concludes that nations will need to drastically cut emissions across all sectors, including transportation, energy, and heavy industry. That will require steep and swift shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, as well as major changes in the way we produce food and other goods.


“The jury has reached a verdict, and it is damning,” said António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, on the call. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”


The report dedicates a chapter to carbon removal, highlighting just how big a role it may have to play, and how challenging it could be to achieve the levels required in the coming decades.

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About the Authors:

James Temple is the senior editor for energy at MIT Technology Review. “I’m focused on renewable energy and the use of technology to combat climate change. Previously, I was a senior director at the Verge, deputy managing editor at Recode, and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. When I’m not writing about energy and climate change, I’m often hiking with my dog or shooting video of California landscapes.”

Casey Crownhart is a climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, focusing on renewable energy, transportation, and how technology can fight climate change. She’s also worked as a freelance science and environmental journalist, writing for outlets like Popular Science and Atlas Obscura. Before journalism, she worked as a researcher in materials science.

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