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A Pivot to Carbon Removal
How is this different from carbon offset?
Hi friends! Happy Earth Week 🌎!
This week we feel extra appreciation for all that the world provides for us. The Earth is a temple for over 7B people, and we need to make sure that we preserve it for future generations to come. So in addition to eating less meat, taking public transport, composting, and using more sustainable products, what more can we as individuals do?!
One up-and-coming way that people are compensating for their footprints is by purchasing carbon offsets. You might have seen these with airlines or delivery services offering options to buy carbon offsets to be more carbon neutral. Even large companies are doing the same, with Apple, Shell, etc., all vowing to be carbon neutral through carbon offsets.
But are carbon offsets actually effective in reducing emissions? Let’s find out.
What are carbon offsets?
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) illustrates 2 ways on how to keep global temperatures in a safe range: cut emissions and achieve net-zero by 2050. Offsetting is reducing or removing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in one place to compensate for emissions elsewhere (hence the net zero).
So how do carbon markets work? The goal is to basically find cheaper ways to reduce carbon emissions, often in other countries, in exchange for the carbon that one company knows it needs to release. Organizations can pay another entity that they know to keep its carbon emission at a minimum (such as a landowner who can get paid to keep its trees standing rather than cutting them down).
Other common examples include finding other groups to plant trees, building renewable energies, capturing methane gasses seeping from coal mines, or even destroying more dangerous carbon gasses.
Are carbon offsets effective?
Carbon offsets provide the benefit of spreading the word about the carbon emissions that come from our everyday lives. Companies themselves have mandatory carbon offsets to stay under the maximum amount of carbon they can emit each year. After all, how do we fight climate change when we need to use cars, planes, and build roofs over our heads?
The major problem — these offsets don’t really offset carbon emissions. 🤯
85% of the projects covered by the carbon offsets projects are unlikely to actually reduce emissions. And 90% of the voluntary projects people can purchase don’t reduce emissions either. This often comes with the facts that these projects would most likely have been built anyway or the projects are often not maintained or destroyed after they are built several years later.
Additionally, companies and individuals often overcount their emission reductions, essentially double counting the carbon offsets. This leads to inflated numbers that allow carbon offsets to seem more effective than they actually are.
How can this be solved?
Many groups look toward the Gold Standard or the Verified Carbon Standard as programs that help to verify the validity of these carbon offset projects, similar to groups we’ve talked before about clothing or palm oil standards. But even this isn’t always 100% reliable.
A growing number of tech companies are looking into automating these processes to help businesses and consumers find ways to reduce their footprint, while also ensuring their is more transparency and accountability.
Greenpeace wants to remove the carbon offset option, stating that it is essentially a form of “pure ‘greenwash’.” and a stop-gap measure. Instead, we must be taking more drastic measures.
In order to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, it won't be enough to just reduce emissions.
To match the target levels needed to reverse climate change and match objectives, we need to also remove the gigatons of carbon dioxide that are already in the ocean and atmosphere — over 670 billion tons. Places that we demolish for agriculture and oil often release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, including wetlands, trees, and the Arctic.
What is carbon removal?
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) comes in a variety of ways. The goal is to reduce the total amount of carbon in the air, not just offset the amount of carbon produced.
Ways this can be accomplished include improving forest management so that planted trees can actually reduce carbon, improving agricultural soil quality, or the most difficult method: direct air capture.
The technology for direct air capture with CDR was commonly pushed to the side because it remained in its infancy. But recently, it’s been gaining a lot of traction as one of the hottest new things in climate tech.
Rise of Carbon Removal Tech
A handful of organizations are bringing up the challenge to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here are a few that we are watching:
Climeworks, a Swiss startup operating a direct-air capture plant in Iceland where it traps CO2 deep underground, recently raised $650M. It currently captures only 4,000 tons a year, or about 600 people’s worth of annual emissions. This recent raise brings up to build a 40,000-ton capture plant in the next three years, with the goal to capture more than a million tons by 2030.
Frontier, an advance market commitment aimed to bring about more CDR technology, was recently established by Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, Sophify and McKinsey with over $1B to spend. This money will be used to help drive future advancements and pay for scalable and permanent solutions, guaranteeing suppliers money once the carbon is removed.
Lowercarbon Capital, a climate tech focused VC firm, established a $350M CDR exclusive fund. In response to Frontier, innovation from startups need funding and Lowercarbon sees themselves as just the place to get that dough.
Things We're Consuming This Week
Just in time for Earth Week, former President Barack Obama voiced over a new documentary on the nation's national parks. Our Great National Parks shine light on the world's most breathtaking national parks and the wildlife that lives there. We don't know about you, but whenever we're surrounded by nature we can't help but think "wow the Earth made this."
The Grist outlines several CO2 pipeline projects driven by carbon capture, similar to the CDR projects we talked about above.
Kurzgesagt shared some great news on how Earth has made big strides in tackling climate change, but there is still more we can do.
National Geographic illustrates through powerful graphics the loss in our forests over decades of loss and changes.
President Biden plans on opening more public land for drilling oil, pressured to keep gas prices down.
Looking for some climate-related books to read? We got you covered:
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
The Secret Life of Trees
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
All We Can Save
Things You Can Do
Looking to cut out more meat and need some help? We love Happy Cow, which helps you find vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your area.
Read our previous post on 🌎 Earth Day to see some events in your area and find ways to help support our beautiful planet.
Friends help friends reduce their footprint - share this with 5 of your closest buds. It helps our lil community grow 🌱
Questions or comments on this piece? Suggestions on what we should cover next? Send us a note.