May 14, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Policy group lays groundwork for "net negative" emissions tech

Illustration of a hand holding a vacuum, sucking carbon dioxide molecules out of the air. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new policy roadmap provides Congress and the White House with ways to support the growth of methods to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using everything from existing forests to direct air capture machines.

Driving the news: Recent climate studies, such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1.5-degree report, have pointed to the clear need for society to pursue strategies for driving carbon emissions into negative territory by the latter half of the century.

  • Yes, but: Many of the technologies we are going to need to get to negative emissions— which can only happen after actual emissions are brought to near zero — don't yet exist or don’t exist in cost effective ways at scale.

State of play: That's where the nonprofit group Carbon180 comes in. The California and DC-based group aims to promote policy solutions to rapidly push forward a "transformation" in carbon removal.

  • What sets this group's agenda apart from the VC firms, oil companies and think tanks working on this issue is that it has a particular aim of making sure removal strategies address environmental justice concerns.
  • The organization also counts some current policy heavyweights as veterans of its work, including Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate advisor; Shuchi Talati, chief of staff at the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy; and Kate Gordon, the top climate adviser to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Details: The roadmap calls for scaling up research, development, deployment, and demonstration, along with implementing deployment incentives and regulations within the next three years.

  • The technologies range from existing land-based solutions, such as protecting and restoring existing forests, to creating new forests as a way to naturally soak up carbon.
  • The group also seeks to expand research for marine-based carbon removal.
  • With soil carbon solutions, such as using farming practices that enhance the land’s capacity to soak up carbon, Carbon180 proposes creating federal policies to reduce barriers for socially disadvantaged farmers.

Carbon180 also calls for investing in Energy Department work on nascent direct air capture technologies, which would suck carbon out of the air and store it for the long-term, or be used to create less carbon intensive fuels.

  • This could be done, the group says, through a new investment tax credit, as well as expanding the existing 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration.
  • The group also calls for creating a program to ensure direct air capture infrastructure is not built mainly in poorer, minority communities, like so many fossil fuel plants are today.

What’s next: The organization points to two pieces of legislation pending before Congress — the SCALE Act, put forward by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), and REPLANT Act, from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — as signs of increased interest.

What they’re saying: "It's really important that we don't use carbon removal as an excuse to overshoot targets and delay mitigation. It is something that we can deploy, and we want to deploy quickly,” Carbon180’s Erin Burns tells Axios. "But again… [this is] in addition to really aggressive mitigation."

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