Is carbon removal a solution to the climate crisis? Part 2
So, we mentioned in a previous blog that carbon removal might just be a solution to the climate crisis… We can remove the carbon in the atmosphere and store it in permanent (and often useful) products that can keep it safe and out of the atmosphere.
We’ve covered the main technologies used to remove excess carbon, but what about nature? Don’t trees already remove carbon from the atmosphere? In short, yes.
Is nature enough?
In some ways, technologies like BECCS and DAC are solutions to the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” ideology. Trees and chlorophyll-loaded plants have been absorbing carbon for millennia - so why do we need expensive and space-dependent technologies?
The problem is the rate at which natural carbon sinks (capturers of carbon) sequester (read: absorb) carbon and the rate at which we’re pumping it out (read: a lot…) don’t add up.
To limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, the IPCC estimates that by 2030, the world will need to remove a further 0.96 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, compared with 2020. By 2050, this will have to rise even more, to around 4.8 billion tonnes above 2020 levels.
This means we need ‘all hands on deck’ - natural and technological - to reach these removal levels.
So what are some examples of nature-based carbon sinks?
The world’s forests absorb 2.6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Yet despite their vital importance, an area the size of a football pitch is destroyed every second. Mangrove forests in particular “sequester carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests”, and contain “the highest carbon density of all terrestrial ecosystems.” (Fatoyinbo et al, 2017). Protecting our forest, then, is one means of getting us out of this mess!
The Earth’s soil absorbs about 25% of all human-driven carbon emissions each year. However, increasing global demand for food production, chemical pollution and climate change are preventing soil from becoming the sequester-champion it’s capable of being. We desperately need a system-level change in the way we grow our food.
Phytoplankton are the main reason the ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks. These microscopic marine algae and bacteria play a huge role in the world’s carbon cycle - absorbing about as much carbon as all the plants and trees on land combined!! But plastic pollution in our ocean means plankton are eating microplastics which is impacting the rate at which they are trapping carbon in our ocean. We’re using the law to push for an end to plastic pollution.
The bottom line
We need to cherish and protect the earth’s natural carbon sinks, invest in existing ecosystems that naturally been carbon emissions at bay, as well as in technologies that will push us over the removal threshold. Maybe then we'll have a real chance to reverse some (or potentially all) of the damage done so far!
But those are just my thoughts, what do you think about carbon removal as a solution to the climate crisis? Let me know if the comments.