FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec 13, 2023
Carbon Removal Emerges as Pillar of Climate Action at COP28, in Tandem with Emissions Reductions and Resiliency
–Carbon Removals at COP organized daily programming and curated more than 75 removals events throughout COP28–
Dubai, UAE: COP28 has resulted in a Global Stocktake that signals that the world should replace fossil fuels with clean energy by 2050 for global net zero. While there were hopes for greater clarity and more ambition, COP28 did see significant steps forward for climate action, including a pledge from more than 100 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030 and mobilizing more than $57 billion in climate capital.
For the first time, a commitment to scale carbon removal is also part of the COP Global Stocktake, the global agreement among the world’s nations on collective action to address climate change. The final text of the COP28 Global Stocktake includes a call for “accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies” including “removal technologies.”
Carbon removal and carbon capture are distinct, but appear alongside each other in the Global Stocktake, along with additional zero and low carbon approaches. Carbon removal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are often confused, but they aim for two very different outcomes. Carbon removal draws carbon dioxide that has already been emitted into the atmosphere. Conversely, CCS stops carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere, usually from flue gas in a smokestack at a facility such as a steel factory. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change distinguishes between carbon removal and CCS in their landmark climate reports.
Carbon Removals at COP, a coalition of NGOs focused on scaling up carbon removals as a pillar of climate action, welcomes the inclusion of carbon removal in the Global Stocktake, but stresses that removals can never be an excuse for business as usual in fossil fuels or to delay reducing emissions. As climate scientist Johan Rockstrom made clear last week: “We have to phase out fossil fuels AND scale negative emissions.”
More than 100 scientists from around the world released a statement during COP28 calling for the phase-out of fossil fuel combustion and highlighting that carbon removal at scale will be critical to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The science is clear that gigatons of carbon removal are needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, in tandem with reducing emissions.
“It is abundantly clear from COP28 that fossil fuel phase out and urgently growing carbon removals need to go hand in hand if we are to keep alive any chance of staying below 1.5,“ said Dr Gabrielle Walker, Co-Founder of Rethinking Removals.
Carbon Removals at COP curated more than 75 carbon removals events at this year’s conference to elevate carbon removal and highlight how it works in tandem with reducing emissions. Organized by Rethinking Removals and Carbon Business Council, with a coalition of NGO partners including Carbon Gap, OpenAir Collective, Climate Action Platform – Africa, RMI, XPRIZE and other partners, Carbon Removals at COP also provided insights and video briefings from carbon removal innovators, policy experts and scientists on the latest thinking and developments around carbon removal throughout COP28.
COP28 also saw several advancements for the global carbon removal sector in the form of government and private investments, new pledges and expanded participation in existing initiatives. One key insight that emerged from these events is the rapid rise of home-grown carbon removal projects in the Global South. Carbon Removals at COP released an interactive map showcasing more than 130 project developers from 35 countries all over the world and spotlighting the stories of the people behind them.
Carbon Removal Takeaways from COP
A series of major carbon removal announcements, initiatives, funding announcements and publications were made during COP28 including.
- Scaling Carbon Removal in Carbon Markets: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement allows countries to co-operate to reach more ambitious reduction targets by exchanging carbon credits across country borders, including carbon removal credits. There are two key mechanisms: Article 6.2 allows Government to Government trade and is operational now, while the Article 6.4 mechanism is project-based mechanism and is not yet operational. Though both Article 6.2 and Article 6.4 texts could not reach consensus, countries can trade carbon removal credits through Article 6.2 and work will continue to implement the Article 6.4 mechanism. In the meantime, carbon removal suppliers and buyers will continue to use the voluntary carbon market to scale action. During COP, six of the major carbon crediting standards announced they will work together on “common principles for the accounting of removals and emissions reductions.”
- Cross-Border Collaboration: Denmark, Panama and Finland launched the Group of Negative Emitters, a coalition of countries committed to being net negative through a mix of reducing emissions and carbon removal. The Carbon management: essential pillar to keep 1.5°C alive event put the spotlight on a global initiative co-sponsored by Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to advance the goal of expanding carbon management projects to reach gigaton scale annually by 2030 – and how countries are working together to scale carbon removal. New countries including Iceland, Mozambique, Netherlands, and Romania joined the Carbon Management Challenge at COP28.
- Mapping Carbon Removal Deployment: Carbon Removals at COP released an interactive map showcasing more than 130 project developers from 35 countries all over the world and spotlighting the stories of the people behind them. The map highlights the geographic reach of carbon removal deployment.
- New Reports & Resources: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers, along with scientists from more than a dozen institutions, released a first-of-its-kind high-resolution assessment of carbon dioxide removal in the Roads to Removal report. McKinsey Sustainability released a new report on the global potential for carbon removal investment, deployment, scaleup. RMI released its Applied Innovation Roadmap exploring 32 carbon removal methods. Deloitte published a report on carbon removal with the UN Climate Change High Level Champions and Race to Zero campaign.
- Funding Commitments: New funding announcements were made at COP28 in the private and public sector. Airline giants American Airlines, AirCanada and Lufthansa each made carbon removal purchase agreements. Frontier announced the largest-ever purchase agreement for carbon removal via enhanced weathering with Lithos Carbon. The U.S. government announced a $40 million investment to provide regional technical assistance for carbon storage scaleup.
Pillars for Scaling Carbon Removal
Carbon Removals at COP work throughout COP28 is grounded in four core principles.
- Reductions & Removals: We Need Both. The science is clear. We need carbon removals as well as deep emissions reductions and adaptation to tackle global warming. There is no net zero without carbon removals. Decarbonization can (and should) get us most of the way to zero – but we need removals for the emissions we’re not able to eliminate. We need to decarbonize as fast as possible and use removals to have any hope of avoiding climate catastrophe. It’s no longer a choice.
- Now, Not Later. The window of opportunity is closing – we need to scale carbon removal over this decade so it is available when we need it. Removals are like a pension: we need to grow them now so we can “withdraw” later. But there is a huge mismatch between the identified need and the current scale of efforts. Scientists believe we’ll need at least 5 billion tonnes of removals by 2050. Today, we’re only able to deliver 0.002% of that. We need to get to work now if we are to succeed.
- Never an Excuse. Carbon removals cannot be an excuse for business as usual in fossil fuels, or to delay reducing emissions. We cannot tackle climate change if we keep burning fossil fuels, period. Even if we ramped removals up to the maximum extent, it would be impossible to produce enough to compensate for continued fossil fuel use. Carbon removals must be additive to decarbonization efforts, with separate targets for reductions and removals that get us to net zero – without excuses.
- Local Leadership, Global Impact. Carbon removals can be done anywhere, by anyone, but have a global impact. The community is vibrant and growing fast: it includes Global South climate activists, creative policy-makers, pioneering mayors, tech companies, carbon market developers and leaders in hard-to-abate industries. We are all working to identify new solutions and ways of rewiring the global economy to limit temperature rise and preserve a stable planet for our collective future.
Quotes from Carbon Removal Innovators & Experts
“COP28 has shown removals gaining momentum beyond ‘traditional’ actors in the Global North, as evidenced by the emergence of the Carbon Removal India Alliance, and the upcoming launch of the Indigenous Greenhouse Gas Removal Coalition to name a few. We can harness this momentum and continue to work the ‘ambition loop’ (a positive feedback loop between corporate ambition, civil society activity and government policy) to accelerate the growth of CDR to achieve our targets and keep 1.5C alive.”
Ashleigh Arton, Sustainability and Climate Manager, Deloitte and former Carbon Dioxide Removal Lead, UN Climate Change High Level Champions
“This year, I was struck by the growth of the CDR presence from COP27 to COP28, as well as those who both know about and are exploring CDR. From the biochar carbon removal perspective in particular, I am hopeful to see a strong growth trajectory for biochar carbon removal within sustainable, climate smart agriculture programs, within decarbonizing the built environment, within projects restoring degraded or polluted lands. What I hope to see more of after leaving COP28 is blended finance options that will leverage catalytic investment, often from governments, to unlock opportunities for the private sector to propel carbon removal scaling.”
Wendy Lu Maxwell-Barton, Executive Director, International Biochar Initiative
“At a time when hope and optimism can be hard to come by when discussing future climate scenarios, solace can be found in the sheer drive, ambition, motivation and dedication of the carbon removal community. Unity was on display in the truest sense of the word, for it was not just the removals community that seemed to be aligned on what they were asking for, but the broader carbon markets community seemed to put aside their differences too, with certification and standard setting bodies aligning to raise integrity and transparency in the voluntary carbon market. For Direct Air Capture (DAC) and carbon management more broadly, this COP illustrated the importance of inclusivity and open dialogue in chartering our collective path to a safe and stable climate for all.”
Aaron Benjamin, UK and Europe Lead, Direct Air Capture Coalition
“The Global Stocktake has shown that urgent action needs to be taken but the response from countries to both for defossilisation and carbon markets makes Puro.earth grateful that the carbon removals sector is taking action on a voluntary basis because the world is running out of time.”
Dr. Helen Bray, Vice President Policy, Puro.earth
“COP28 demonstrated the power of carbon markets but more so the power of the carbon market community. We know that fragmented technology choices in the trading and settlement of carbon credits has prevented the carbon industry from growing and maturing as an asset class. As a leading global exchange and innovative technology company, Nasdaq is proud to leverage our marketplace technology at COP28 to bring these markets to scale, build their integrity across the globe and help innovate the future of carbon removal on the way to gigaton scale by 2030.”
Sarabeth Brockley, Head of Carbon Strategy, Nasdaq
“Living Carbon is proud to bring our photosynthesis-enhanced trees to COP28 to demonstrate the role biotechnology can have in carbon removal and climate resilience of our landscapes. By working together, across industries and international borders, we can solve the global climate crisis by developing innovative solutions that reduce atmospheric carbon emissions to the key levels reinforced by this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.”
Maddie Hall, CEO and Co-founder, Living Carbon
“Carbon Removal can and should be Climate Positive Green Growth and Sustainable Development – it absolutely must be Responsible based on the principles of Equity/Justice, Inclusivity, Accountability, Safety, Durability and Performance.”
Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, Founder of the Global Carbon Removal Partnership
“CUR8 is a market maker for carbon removals, acting on the science that tells us we need billions of tonnes of removals to stay below 1.5 degrees. We were therefore greatly encouraged by the way in which the carbon removals community came together at this COP, bringing out into the open vital issues such as enabling policies, access to finance, risk management and collaboration between the Global North and Global South. Finally these conversations are being held by the right people in the right rooms.”
Marta Krupinska, CEO, CUR8
“We’ve never known more about what is needed to keep global climate targets in sight – including the critical role of scaling up carbon removal alongside deep emissions reductions and swift movement away from fossil fuels. The level of discussion around carbon removal at COP28 reflected this understanding and also highlighted what more we all need to do to make sure the scale up of carbon removal is rapid, as well as equitable and sustainable.”
Katie Lebling, Research Associate, World Resources Institute
“Never before have we seen the CDR industry mobilise like it did for this COP. The amount of content, events, and attendees mirrored the general growth of an industry set to grow 11x in 2023, after a 6x growth in 2022. This bodes well for the future, given the incredible task at hand: scaling 40% year on year for the next 27 years to reach the ultimate goal of around 10 gigatons of durable CDR per year by 2050.”
Sebastian Manhart, Senior Policy Advisor, Carbonfuture
“Carbon removal is critical to limiting – and ultimately reversing – global temperature increases. It was encouraging to see this recognized at COP28 and intensive negotiations still taking place to make progress on a global framework for carbon removals. For carbon markets to succeed, robust rules to enforce monitoring, reporting, and verification are essential. Isometric is a new kind of carbon registry founded to help raise the bar for trust and transparency and build this critical infrastructure so we can scale carbon removal to the level the planet needs.”
Lukas May, Head of Policy and Expansion, Isometric
“Progress on international negotiations can be painstaking, but the growth in the carbon removal community and the tangible solutions that were showcased at COP28, is undeniable. A complete phase out of fossil hydrocarbons is only possible if unprecedented emission cuts are complemented with carbon removals working in conjunction. Looking ahead, removals must be integrated into IPCC greenhouse gas inventory methodologies, and into countries’ official UN targets (NDCs) with haste.”
Eli Mitchell-Larson, Chief Science & Advocacy Officer, Carbon Gap
“The world has embraced the science and understands clearly what needs to happen in the coming decade. Now it’s all about finding the courage to do it. Carbon removal will play a key part in keeping the 1.5c window open, if we as an industry get to scale fast enough. We’re seeing clients and governments stepping in to place long term offtake to signal that there’s demand, and we can focus on building.”
Henrietta Moon, CEO & Co-founder, Carbo Culture (Biochar Carbon Removal)
“The growing carbon removal community is truly inspiring, particularly its push toward a holistic approach to achieving net-zero goals. Increasingly so, witnessing the Kenyan government’s growing recognition and support for this movement, including the opportunity to be part of the Kenyan delegation, fills us with immense encouragement. This shift from an “either/or” mentality towards a collaborative “and” approach signifies a positive step forward. Africa sits at a pivotal moment to drive impact-driven carbon removal solutions; her natural endowments can scale this while fostering prosperity, especially among frontline communities. There is still a huge fight ahead of us, but we find solace and motivation in this collective spirit of encouragement and inspiration.”
Fiona Mugambi & Diana Maranga, Octavia Carbon
“Over the past few years, the global carbon removals sector’s rate of expansion and diversification has been extraordinary. This heartening reality really came into focus this year at COP28, reflected in the impressive amount of carbon removal content that was produced both inside and outside of the zones throughout the conference, and the massive turnout of sector entrepreneurs, advocates, and experts we saw on the ground. Carbon removal has arrived, and has now gained mainstream acceptance as a core piece of our overall strategy to address the climate emergency. This was evident in so many ways here in Dubai.”
Chris Neidl, Impact Director, Rethinking Removals
“It is encouraging that Carbon Removal is becoming a global discussion, and we will see the Global South, especially Africa, play a key role in this emerging sector. Conversely, we continue to see the need for an accurate narrative on the role of CDR in climate action – Whilst CDR is not an excuse to continue emitting, we cannot reach net zero without CDR; We need to invest in all solutions to have a chance at meeting our decarbonization targets.”
Bilha Ndirangu, CEO, Great Carbon Valley
“From commitments by more than 100 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy by 2030 to more than 20 countries backing the Carbon Management challenge, significant climate progress was made at COP28. But more work is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, including the crucial work of reducing emissions and scaling up carbon removal. Energized by the headway at COP28, the Carbon Business Council and our coalition of more than 100 leading companies will continue working to make a gigaton-scale climate impact.”
Ben Rubin, Executive Director, Carbon Business Council
“With each passing day of inaction pushing us closer to catastrophic and irreversible climate impacts, we know that muli-lateral action is vital to spur the investment in adaptation, emissions reductions, and carbon removals necessary to realize the goals of the Paris Agreement. Heirloom was born from the recognition that there is already too much CO2 in our atmosphere. As COP negotiators jockey over a final text, one thing remains clear: We must expand the speed and urgency at which carbon removal is able to get to the gigatone scale by advancing policies that supercharge the deployment of carbon management facilities. On the ground at COP28, I was proud to stand with technologists, businesses, investors, customers, lawmakers and delegates who are ready to meet this all-hands-on-deck moment with decisive action that stops temperature rise at 1.5 degrees C.”
Shashank Samala, CEO, Heirloom
“It is abundantly clear from COP28 that fossil fuel phase out and urgently growing the carbon removals ecosystem need to go hand in hand if we are to keep alive any chance of staying below 1.5. Removals can never be an excuse to continue fossil fuels business as usual. Instead they increase ambition. And as the rapidly rising home-grown projects in the global south show, they are also a way to increase the flow of money to the countries that have done least to cause climate change and can do most to develop the solutions that will combat it.”
Dr Gabrielle Walker, Co-founder, Rethinking Removals
Carbon Removals at COP is a collaborative effort composed of volunteers, NGOs, and practitioners from across the carbon removal ecosystem. Organized by Rethinking Removals and Carbon Business Council, with a coalition of NGO partners including AirMiners, Carbon Gap, Carbon Removal Canada, Climate Action Platform – Africa, DVNE, Direct Air Capture Coalition, Four Corners Coalition, Green Africa Youth Organisation, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, IGGRC, International Biochar Initiative, Negative Emissions Platform, Ocean Visions, OpenAir Collective, RMI, Tree Media, WRI, XPRIZE and other partners. It is funded by the Quadrature Climate Foundation.