Is Reducing Carbon Emissions Better Than Removing Them?
In a word. Yes. Y-E-S!!! (3 exclamation marks felt about right).
Reducing all the carbon (and other greenhouse gases*) humans release is essential to limiting climate change. The science shows that we can't remove all that we currently emit. There's simply too much of it pumped out every year. It's adding up a lot faster than we can remove it, or that forests and oceans can absorb.
As we develop our ability - through natural methods and some emerging technologies - to remove our emissions, removal will start to play a larger role. It will become a useful tool. Though it's certainly not the main method that we get closer to Net Zero*.
To get to the positive turning point, where our ability to remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to counteract all the billions of tonnes we're emitting each year, humanity as a whole are going to need to reduce in a big way from where we are here.
Some estimates have it that if we can reach 5 to 10 gigatonnes* (billion tonnes) of removal capacity per year by 2050 while reducing the remaining 40 to 45 billion tonnes - from where we are in 2022 - that'd be a great result. This is pretty much the definition of "net zero". This would be a hopeful outcome that would limit global warming to somewhere between 1.5 to 2 degrees celsius (the level scientists agree is the upper limit to avoid the worst outcomes from the climate change already happening around us all).
Scaling carbon removal capability to that level from where it is today (estimates put it around tens of thousands of tonnes) is a challenge that requires investment and time. Waiting to build it up is not a sensible option, nor will it likely reach enough to compensate for the present level of annual emissions. It is both quicker and cheaper to start reducing emissions now, while we develop our removal capability. Reducing emissions also increases the effectiveness of also being able to remove more of them in the future.
To truly address the root causes of The Climate Crisis* reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is about 90-95% of the challenge, with removing emissions already out in the world having an important role to play for the last 5-10%. We absolutely need both, though the ratio is heavily weighted towards reduction. The more and quicker we reduce emissions from the present high level, the greater the time we give ourselves for everything else.
Will we get there? It's too early to tell. Here at Zopeful, we absolutely think we can.
When we're able to achieve this balance of reduction and removal we'll be in a better place to consider taking out some of the 2000 billion tonnes we've emitted since the Industrial Revolution. We'll have the option to bring down atmospheric greenhouse gases closer to where they were before we humans started emitting lots of them. Carbon removal is an essential capability for us to develop to be able to do that.
Have hope, make progress! 💚
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Climate Buzzword Dictionary
Greenhouse Gases - Abbreviated to GHG. 98% made up of Carbon Dioxide, Methane or Nitrous Oxide. Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. See Carbon and Equivalents
Net Zero - a target to stop producing Greenhouse Gases from human activity by 2050. It combines reducing, removing as well as offsetting hard to eliminate emissions. Also called Net-zero 2050
Gigatonnes - another way of saying "a billion tonnes", abrev. Gt. Example: 1billion tonnes of CO2 = 1 Gigatonne, or 1Gt
The Climate Crisis - the accelerating heating of our planet due to human activity
Learn more climate science and related terminology