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Getting excited about carbon removals

Delia Meth-Cohn
Delia Meth-Cohn
Getting excited about carbon removals

In our conversation with Nigel Topping, Ugbaad Koser, Eli Mitchell-Larson and Patrick Buergi, we started thinking about all the different mindsets that are needed to pour positive energy into carbon removals.

Our conversation on September 14 explored the design principles – durability, fairness and effectiveness – that need to be embedded in carbon removals. We’ll be sharing with you what we learnt in each of those areas soon. But we wanted to highlight some insights around four mindsets that we hadn’t expected to hear.

It was Nigel Topping who started us off by saying carbon removals needed an exponential mindset. Leading the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero, he’s been focusing attention on short-term targets. Instead of looking with despair and disbelief at the 10 billion tonnes of removals the IPCC says is needed by 2050, we should focus on doubling carbon removals every two years.

This is another one of those moonshots…Let’s looks to see if we have enough projects in the pipeline to go from 3 million tonnes now to 6 million and keep doubling every two years all the way to 2050 – that’s the exponential mindset we need.”

Ugbaad Koser of Carbon180 took us into the inclusive mindset. She is working to put equity and justice at the heart of carbon removals, welcoming everyone to the table – the activists from carbon removals, labour, youth, environmental justice, the global south – and giving them ample room to shape and co-create the emerging industry. That will ensure carbon removals has support to move forward at scale and doesn’t get held back by resistance.

We shouldn’t see inclusion as a hurdle – it’s an opportunity to get things right”.

As we discussed how to shift from worries about moral hazard to the moral imperative of not leaving our mess for the next generation to clean up, Eli Mitchell-Larson introduced the idea of an abundance mindset. The moral hazard argument – that the promise of future technological change will distract us from current action – made sense when climate solutions were jostling for attention and money. Mitigation deterrence is a legitimate concern, but it is also a form of infighting at a time of scarcity. Eli is working on moving beyond infighting and expanding the pie in Europe.

“The zeitgeist has changed. It’s not about fighting for scraps of the pie, the pie can get bigger. We can have much more money for avoided deforestation and removals – we can have both and we need both.”

That prompted an interesting discussion about bundling different approaches to climate that complement, rather than counter each other – that requires a systemic mindset. Patrick Buergi of South Pole emphasized that complementarity requires standardisation and transparency in accounting and disclosure. We discussed different options for bundling and integrating removals into people’s daily lives. Could a modular direct air capture plant be integrated into a public park system, for example?

“We need systems thinking. We have multiple combinations of technologies and nature-based solutions, different ways to transport CO2 and many ways to store it.”

We’ll start working on those mindset shifts in our coming events – but above all they need to be packaged in positive energy. This is the time to get excited about carbon removals and put our hearts and souls into making it happen.