ICR Fact Sheets Provide a Comprehensive Overview of All Things Carbon Removal

Although the emerging field of carbon removal has great potential to help curb climate change when coupled with more traditional methods of mitigation, it is riddled with uncertainty. There are many risk factors and many components within each individual method that are still poorly misunderstood. The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy is dedicated to creating a set of comprehensive tools that can aid in providing clarity on carbon removal practices and technologies on many different levels.

Among these valuable resources are a comprehensive set of Fact Sheets that provide overviews on each of the individual topics regarding carbon removal, the production of which was provided for by a grant from The New York Community Trust. These fact sheets are broken down into two categories, topics in carbon removal and approaches to carbon removal. 

The topics in carbon removal fact sheets provide an overview and background on:

What is carbon removal?

Nature-based solutions to climate change and 

Carbon capture & use and carbon removal

The approaches to carbon removal fact sheets break down the ten different topics, providing a deeper context to the potential methods behind carbon removal. Each of these provide not only an overview, but weigh in on the co-benefits & concerns, potential scales and costs, technological readiness, governance consideration and provide sources for further readings. These methods include:

Agroforestry: Incorporates trees with other agricultural land use which not only removes carbon dioxide but also provides benefits to farmers and their communities.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage: A technique dependent on two technologies. Biomass that is converted into heat, electricity, liquid gas or fuels make up the bioenergy component. The carbon emissions generated from this bioenergy conversion are then captured and stored in geological formations or long-lasting products, this being the second component of this method.

Biochar: A type of charcoal that is produced by burning organic material in a low oxygen environment, converting the carbon within to a form that resists decay. It is then buried or added to soils where that carbon can remain harbored for decades to centuries.

Blue Carbon: Refers to the carbon that is sequestered in peatlands and coastal wetlands such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass among others, many of which have been destroyed in recent decades. 

Direct Air Capture: An approach that employs mechanical systems that capture carbon directly and compress it to be injected into geological storage, or used to make long lasting products.

Enhanced Mineralization: Also known as enhanced or accelerated weathering. Accelerates the natural processes in which various minerals absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One implementation involves grinding basalt into powder and spreading it over soils, causing a reaction with CO2 in the air, forming stable carbonate materials.

Forestation: This includes forest restoration, reforestation and afforestation. Forests remove carbon dioxide and through the trees within, and have the potential to store that carbon for long periods of time.

Mass Timber: A method that involves utilizing specialized wood products to construct buildings, therefore replacing emission-intensive material such as concrete and steel. Further, this wood stores carbon that was captured from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. 

Ocean Alkalization: A process involving adding alkaline substances, such as olivine or lime, to the seawater to enhance the ocean’s natural carbon sink.

Soil Carbon Sequestration: Also referred to as “carbon farming” or “regenerative agriculture.” This process involves managing land in ways that promote carbon absorption and sequestration within soils, especially prominent among farmland.

By reviewing each of these succinctly written fact sheets, it is possible for one to gain a solid understanding of what is happening in the world of carbon removal; the good, the bad, and the misunderstood.

NGO Engagement with Carbon Removal: Announcing a New Project for the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy and the Union of Concerned Scientists

Authored by Allison Tennant, Project Assistant, Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy & Union of Concerned Scientists

Two years ago, The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy (ICR) convened a group of representatives from over 20 national environmental groups at the Wingspread Center in Racine, WI. The goal was to spark and facilitate an ongoing sharing of perspectives and resources about carbon removal. Space was created for meeting attendees to probe various carbon removal approaches and issues, with the intent that information and findings from the meeting would inform exploration of carbon removal in their home institutions. 

Now, ICR has partnered with the Union of Concerned Scientists for a new and newly imagined round of work with the NGO community. In my new position, created with the kind support of the New York Community Trust, I will be reconvening the group that gathered at Wingspread and working with them to imagine and promote more just, equitable, and inclusive understandings of carbon removal. We will be seeking to expand the carbon removal conversation to draw on the knowledge, interests, and perspectives of a wider array of voices, recognizing that different carbon removal approaches are poised to have implications across a diverse set of sectors and communities.

As the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C makes clear, carbon removal will need to be a part of the approach to keeping warming under 1.5°C; emissions reductions alone will no longer be enough. Governments and companies must now make large investments in R,D&D of carbon removal approaches to get technologies up to scale. Just as importantly, we need robust forms of evaluation and assessment of carbon removal options to ensure that any developments in this fast-moving field are attending to social and environmental imperatives. Careful evaluation of what carbon removal can and can’t do won’t happen without increased attention by civil society actors. 

With an upcoming US presidential election, there is opportunity for increased funding towards carbon removal, but there are also equity issues and guardrails to be considered. Over the next weeks and months, we’ll be working with the Wingspread group and an expanding set of civil society actors to find out what carbon removal questions still need to be addressed and work with them to try to figure out answers. They don’t all have to be on the same page, but the dialogue will help expose existing issues and workshop potential solutions. It’s going to be a big project, and I’m excited to see what will come out of it.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this new joint project between the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy and the Union of Concerned Scientists, please contact me: ATennant@ucsusa.org. 

The Democratic Party’s Draft Policy Platform and the Potential Role of Carbon Dioxide Removal/Negative Emissions Technologies to Combat Climate Change

Authored by Wil Burns, Co-Director, Institute for Carbon Removal Law & Policy, American University

The Democratic party’s draft policy platform, drafted by the Democratic National Committees platform drafting committee, was released this week. The platform will be considered by the delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee convention next month, where the delegates will make final decisions on the text of the non-binding policy document.

The draft’s climate section contains a number of provisions pertinent to carbon dioxide/negative emissions approaches, including the following:

  • In seeking to develop a “thriving, equitable, and globally competitive clean energy economy,” the United States should seek to “develop and manufacture next-generation technologies to address the climate crisis …” [p.44]. These technologies include “direct air capture and net-negative emissions technologies,” as well as “carbon capture and sequestration that permanently stores greenhouse gases …” [p. 48). The platform also calls for support for “the most historically far-reaching public investments and private sector incentives for research, development, demonstration, and employment of next-generation technologies …” [p. 48];
  • In pursuit of the objective of eliminating power plant carbon pollution by 2035 to “reach net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible [and no later than by 2050],” decarbonization strategies should include carbon capture and storage [p. 45];
  • In the context of the agricultural sector, the platform calls for a partnership to help farmers develop new sources of income including through, inter alia, lower-emission, and regenerative agricultural practices.” [p.47] While the contours of these practices are not outlined in the document, one would presume that it would include methods to rebuild soil organic matter, such as no-till agriculture and cover crops;
  • There are also several provisions related to public lands stewardship that, albeit vague, might help facilitate enhanced carbon sequestration. The platform calls for the development of a youth corps to conserve public lands. [p. 45] Moreover, it advocates full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to ensure conservation of public lands, as well as programs to incentivize conservation initiatives on private lands, “including through private sector ecosystems markets.” [pp.48-9];
  • There is only one reference to the potential role of afforestation/reforestation in climate policy, with a focus on temperature impacts, with the platform calling for the planting of “millions of trees” in urban areas to “help reduce heat stress.” [p. 47]

The drafters’ engagement in the potential role of CDR/NETs approaches in climate policymaking is laudable, and reflects a potentially expanded role for such options compared to that contemplated in the New Green Deal, which briefly discussed tree-planting as a carbon sequestration strategy. At the same time, the draft platform is also an extremely underdeveloped set of proposals in terms of fleshing out potentially requisite levels of funding, necessary regulatory frameworks to facilitate research, development, and potential deployment of many of these options, and the daunting issue of how to integrate such approaches into the current climate policymaking domain at the state, national and international level. It is also notable that one of the most widely discussed potential carbon dioxide removal approaches, afforestation/reforestation, is given extremely short shrift in the document, with the only reference to tree planting focused on albedo effects rather than carbon sequestration potential. While the delegates will have the opportunity to hone the document, it’s unclear if they will have the expertise to address some of these concerns.

However, in the end, perhaps it’s helpful in itself to have a major party acknowledge the potentially important role of CDR/NETs options in pursuing the critical objective of net emissions neutrality in the next few decades. The platform establishes a foundation for the hard work that would inevitably need to follow to make this a reality.