How to Make Carbon Removal Part of Our Climate Journey

How to Make Carbon Removal Part of Our Climate Journey

by Noah Deich

Carbon removal is an essential yet underdeveloped component of the climate solutions portfolio. Here’s why carbon removal is critical for climate action, and a menu of options for what individuals at the beginning of their climate journeys can do has a high impact in the carbon removal field today.

The IPCC just released its 6th Assessment Report (AR6) on climate change. The takeaway? It’s grim, but not hopeless. With enough investment in stopping emissions, we can slow, then halt the rise in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

AR6 also shows that if we only focus on stopping emissions, we won’t stop climate change. Climate change is already here. The scientific data -- alongside increasingly apocalyptic experiences of drought, fire, flooding, and other extreme weather around the globe -- make this clear.

The only way to reverse the damage we’ve done to the atmosphere is carbon removal: capturing and storing CO2 directly from the atmosphere. CO2 is a “long-lived” greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for centuries if left to nature. With carbon removal -- including land-based approaches like tree-planting and agricultural practices that store carbon in soils, or technologies like direct air capture machines -- we can help nature speed up the clean up of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Historically, carbon removal has been relegated to the sidelines of the climate conversation. Back when the IPCC released its first assessment report about 30 years ago, carbon removal was much less urgent. If we had invested in decarbonizing the economy then, we wouldn’t have needed carbon removal at the pace or scale required now.

Unfortunately, carbon removal is nowhere close to the scale required. Technological carbon removal solutions have only been deployed at the thousands of tons per year level. Land-based carbon removal approaches have gained greater traction, but we currently lack a comprehensive database of efforts with consistent standards of permanence and additionality.

We’ll need to learn from the history of other climate technologies. For example, solar, wind, and electric vehicles were all able to come down a cost “learning curve” following a big investment in applied innovation funding coupled with technology-specific incentives to bring solutions to market, creating a snowball effect of lower costs and greater deployments. We will also need standards and technologies for carbon accounting and verification that ensure solutions deliver climate benefits. Labor standards are critical to ensure that removal efforts create family-sustaining jobs. And, we will need to empower communities to co-create projects alongside developers and investors to ensure we advance equity and justice. 

Ensuring carbon removal advances equitably from the beginning is not just the moral thing to do, but an essential political requirement. Unlike clean energy, long-run demand for carbon removal will ultimately come from governments procuring “atmospheric clean-up services.” For carbon removal policy to be durable across changes in administration and Congress, we have to make sure that carbon removal delivers robust carbon sequestration, and creates economic and social opportunities while protecting the environment in blue, red, and purple districts alike.

All this means that there’s no better time than today to get started on your carbon removal journey today. Here are three steps that will help anyone looking to engage more deeply in the carbon removal field:

Learn. A wealth of resources now exists for newcomers to get up to speed quickly on the often steep learning curve around carbon removal solutions. The CDR Primer is a great place to start, and is a launchpad for diving deeper into the accelerating academic field. Subscribing to Carbon180’s newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the most important emerging developments in the field. The carbon removal community is also generous with their time and eager to help others -- the MCJ Slack channel and other communities such as Air Miners are great places for learning from others interested in carbon removal.

Build. Many carbon removal research labs and startups could use additional talent. And the field is far from saturated -- never been a better time to start building something new, especially with announcements like Lowercarbon Capital and the US Department of Energy funding available to new ventures. The demand from voluntary corporate and philanthropic initiatives is also maturing: Stripe, Shopify, Microsoft, and XPRIZE are customers for high potential efforts. Increasingly, entrepreneurship support organizations -- from Y Combinator to NYSERDA’s C2V program -- are supporting carbon removal efforts.

Catalyze. To put it mildly, the carbon removal field is under-resourced. It received only 1% of climate philanthropy over the past five years. Investments have only recently ticked upward. Public innovation funding is still billions shy of what the National Academies says is necessary. More carbon removal initiatives across the investment, corporate sustainability, philanthropy, and policy fields are needed. There’s no better time to expand the aperture of ongoing climate efforts to support removal or to launch new efforts dedicated to moving the concept of a carbon-sequestering economy of the future from idea to reality.


🎙Startup Series

This week, Jason sat down with Naman Trivedi, Co-Founder & CEO of WattBuy. WattBuy provides transparent, intelligent insights for homeowners & renters, helping them save upwards of 40% on electricity bills, select renewable energy plans, and gain a deeper understanding of their home's energy use.

WattBuy is also hiring, check out their open positions here: WattBuy Careers

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Communities News

Community news and announcements

  • As our MCJ community continues to grow in size and scope, we’ve realized it’s time for our outward identity to evolve. We’ve hired The Regenerates (you can hear their episode with us here) to help us put together the right language for how we talk about MCJ, and we similarly are looking for web design and logo help so we can reimagine our visual identity to the world.  We have some budget set aside for this so we can pay for the work, and ideally, we’d like for this design work to come from within the community. If you are a web or visual designer — whether solo or run a creative agency — and you’d like to be involved in this, please DM @Cody Simms who is helping us with this project. Beyond that, we want community input and feedback on the future design and voice, so we’re creating #mcj-identity feel free to join it and we’ll use it to share ideas and designs as they start to come together.

  • Heirloom, an MCJ Collective portfolio company, announced a new partnership with Shopify! Shopify selected Heirloom to be an integral purchase in their first Sustainability Fund with a multi-year commitment (Heirloom’s technology qualifies for Carbon Mineralization as well as Direct Air Capture).

  • Check out the #study-group to vote for the next book club book; fill out the poll here!

Climate Jobs

For more open positions, check out the #climatejobs channel in MCJ Slack.

Climate Events

For more community events, check out the #events channel in Slack or the MCJ Calendar on Luma.

💡MCJ Ideas Jam (Wednesday, September 15 at 9 am PT/12 pm ET)
For those new to MCJ, this is a monthly 1-hour pitch event where MCJers pitch their climate business or idea to the community and guest experts. RSVP here!

Techstars Sustainability Roundtable (Wednesday, September 15th at 11 am ET)
This month they’ll feature demos from some of the top climate tech startups that applied to the recent Techstars Sustainability Challenge: Net-Zero. Presenting startups will range from seed to Series C stage and are building technologies ranging from direct air capture to data modeling and a wide range in between. MCJ has been one of the challenge partners for this cycle. Our own, Thai Nguyen, participated in helping Techstars identify promising trends and startups. RSVP here!

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