To stop climate change, we need to restore a healthy balance of CO₂ in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide removal solutions – both nature-based and technological solutions – can contribute to removing historic or unavoidable emissions from the air, thus helping the world get to net-zero emissions. Carbon removals differ from carbon offsets: while the latter help to reduce or avoid emissions, carbon dioxide removal removes CO₂ that has already been emitted into the atmosphere, thus lowering the absolute amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere. You can read up more about the difference between carbon offsets and carbon removal here.
Given the magnitude of the challenge, carbon removal solutions need to be scaled drastically. And the private sector plays a key role in driving them forward. In recent years, an increasing number of companies have announced ambitious climate goals and are developing strategies to get to net-zero emissions. Leading businesses are investing in carbon removal solutions to achieve this and they play a key role in driving the market forward.
Yet, navigating solutions in the carbon removal market is not easy: different carbon removal approaches exist, and there is a lack of standards to assess them.
How to choose a solution and what criteria are needed to make a sound assessment?
New initiatives and organizations trying to solve this and improve the transparency in the carbon removal market are taking off. In recent years, more and more multinational companies have purchased carbon removal volumes to meet their climate targets. By creating corporate carbon removal portfolios, they increase the demand for and thus give more visibility to carbon removal solutions. As part of the process, they typically screen many different solutions and partner with scientific advisory organizations to define the criteria these solutions must meet to become part of their portfolio.
Companies like Microsoft, Stripe or Shopify are pioneering this climate movement and have shared their learnings openly to help other businesses do the same. To define the right assessment criteria, they have partnered with organizations like CarbonPlan and Carbon Direct, who helped to assess and select the highest-quality solutions based on specific criteria.
To shed more light on this topic, Climeworks recently hosted a digital fireside chat with Jeremy Freeman, founder and executive director of CarbonPlan. CarbonPlan is a non-profit that focuses on providing transparency and scientific integrity across CO₂ removal and climate solutions using the best available science and traceable data. They assist organizations in making effective decisions towards their CO₂ removal portfolio.
Watch the recording of the fireside chat with Jeremy here:
CarbonPlan analyzed the solutions that became part of Stripe's and Microsoft's carbon removal portfolios and put together a comprehensive carbon dioxide removal database. During our fireside chat, Jeremy explained how CarbonPlan is approaching the assessment of these solutions. The first question to ask is whether a solution actually removes CO₂ from the atmosphere or only avoids emissions. He then introduced and explained the most relevant criteria CarbonPlan is using:
The amount of CO₂ that the solution removes, taking into account the criterion of negativity to account for project emissions.
The net amount of CO₂ removed, after having accounted for the emissions the solution causes itself. The higher the net amount, the better.
The duration in years over which carbon storage can be reasonably assured. The more permanent the better to ensure lasting climate benefits.
The CO₂ being removed should be additional, meaning that the removal would not have happened without the solution that provided it.
During the discussion, Jeremy highlighted the importance of the criterion permanence. Because CO₂ emissions have a global warming potential that lasts for thousands of years, removals need to offer an equivalent timespan to be truly beneficial. This is crucial when looking at the costs of a removal project: the costs should be evaluated by taking permanence into consideration as less permanent removal projects need to be repeated more often than more permanent projects to achieve the same timespan. In other words, the repetitive cost to keep less permanent removal projects running makes cheaper projects expensive in the long run.
Climeworks puts great value on ensuring the permanence of its carbon dioxide removal solution. Climeworks' carbon dioxide removal is one of the most permanent solutions on the market, which is recognized among its customers and partners. Elizabeth Willmott, Carbon Program Manager at Microsoft, put it this way: "Climeworks' direct air capture technology will serve as a key component of our carbon removal efforts. Their application set a high bar for technical rigor - especially the permanence of their solution, and we are looking forward to helping further scale their work with this purchase."