Carbon-neutral world: Removing CO2 from air no longer ‘optional’

Major economies are under more pressure to reduce CO2 emissions in order to reach a 'carbon-neutral' planet by the year 2050.

Carbon-neutral world: Removing CO2 from air no longer ‘optional’

The burning question going into the Glasgow climate summit is whether major economies can, by 2050, reduce emissions enough to deliver a carbon-neutral world in which humanity no longer adds planet-warming gases to the atmosphere. 

Less talked about – but rising quickly on the climate agenda – are tools and techniques to pull CO2 straight out of the air.

Negative emission and Paris Agreement

Even scientists sceptical about its feasibility agree that without carbon dioxide removal (CDR) – aka “negative emission” – it will be extremely difficult to meet the Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

“We need drastic, radical emissions reductions, and on top of that we need some CDR,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research. 

ALSO READ: The Queen finds lack of action with climate change ‘irritating’

WHAT IS CO2 REMOVAL?

There are basically two ways to extract CO2 from thin air.  

One is to boost nature’s capacity to absorb and stockpile carbon. Healing degraded forests, restoring mangroves, industrial-scale tree planNice, Franceting, boosting carbon uptake in rocks or the ocean – all fall under the hotly debated category of “nature-based solutions.

The second way – called direct air capture – uses chemical processes to strip out CO2, then recycles it for industrial use or locks it away in porous rock formations, unused coal beds or saline aquifers.   

A variation known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, combines elements from both approaches. 

Wood pellets or other biomass is converted into biofuels or burned to drive turbines that generate electricity. The CO2 emitted is roughly cancelled out by the CO2 absorbed during plant growth.

But when carbon dioxide in the power plant’s exhaust is syphoned off and stored underground, the process becomes a net-negative technology.

DO WE REALLY NEED IT?

Yes, for a couple of reasons.

Even if the world begins drawing down carbon pollution by three, four or five % each year – and that is a very big “if” – some sectors like cement and steel production, long-haul aviation and agriculture are expected to maintain emission levels for decades. 

“We have modelling, but no one is sure what we might need in 2050,” said Oliver Geden, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and an expert on CDR. 

“There will be residual emissions and the numbers might be high.”

And there is another reason. 

The August report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it alarmingly clear that the 1.5C threshold will be breached in the coming decades no matter how aggressively greenhouse gases are drawn down. 

CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, which means that the only way to bring Earth’s average surface temperature back under the wire by 2100 is to suck some of it out of the air.  

WHAT’S HOT, WHAT’S NOT?

BECCS was pencilled into IPCC climate models more than a decade ago as the theoretically cheapest form of negative emissions but has barely developed since.

The technology’s prospects took a hit this week when Britain’s large Drax Power Station, converted to run on biomass and store emitted CO2, was dropped from an investment listing of sustainable companies, the S&P Clean Energy Index.  

“I don’t see a BECCS boom,” said Geden.

A peer-reviewed proposal in 2019 to draw down excess CO2 by planting a trillion trees sparked huge excitement in the media and among gas and oil companies that have made afforestation offsets a central pillar of their attempts to align with Paris treaty goals.

But the idea was sharply criticised by experts, who pointed out that it would require converting twice the area of India into monoculture tree farms.    

Also, planting trees to soak up CO2 is fine – until the forests burn down in climate-enhanced wildfires.

“They really have a problem in California,” Geden said. “The state deals with forest offsets and emissions trading, but their forests are burning down.”

Among all the carbon dioxide removal methods, direct air capture is among the least developed but the most talked about. 

“It’s such a sexy technology,” said Peters. “Part of that is marketing — glossy brochures, a fancy technology, shiny silver. It captures the imagination.”

HOW FAST CAN WE SCALE UP?

In reality, direct air capture (DAC) is a large-scale industrial process that requires huge amounts of energy to run.

Existing technology is also a long way from making a dent in the problem.

For example, the amount of CO2 extracted in a year by the world’s largest direct air capture plant (4,000 tons) – opened last month in Iceland by Climeworks – is equivalent to three seconds’ worth of current global emissions (40 billion tons).

Earlier this year a team of researchers led by David Victor at the University of California San Diego’s Deep Decarbonisation Initiative wanted to see how much a “wartime-like crash deployment” of DAC could lower CO2 concentrations under different emissions scenarios.

Assuming an investment of a trillion dollars a year starting now, DAC knocked off some two billion tonnes of CO2 annually from global emissions by 2050 in the models. 

But only when coupled with the most ambitious carbon-cutting scenario laid out by the IPCC was that enough to bring temperatures back down – after rising to 2C – to around 1.7C by 2100.

CORPORATE INVESTMENT? 

Direct Air Capture has benefited from a wave of corporate backing.

In April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk launched the $100-million X-Prize for CO2 removal technology.

Last month, Breakthrough Energy founder Bill Gates unveiled a corporate partnership — American Airlines, ArcelorMittal, Bank of America, Microsoft, The BlackRock Foundation and General Motors — to turbocharge the development of direct air capture, sustainable aviation fuel and two other new energy technologies.

“A global carbon removal industry is coming,” Johanna Forster and Naomi Vaughan, both from the University of East Anglia, noted last week in a commentary.  

The danger, said Peters, is that some companies may talk up future carbon dioxide removal rather than reducing emissions today.  

IMPACT ON UN NEGOTIATIONS?

Appeals to remove the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere have begun to enter the political arena, and could become a contentious issue at the UN negotiations in Glasgow and beyond, experts say.

First India, then China, called earlier this year on rich countries to go beyond 2050 net-zero commitments. 

“Countries from the Global South are demanding that industrialised countries go net-negative,” said Geden.

Small island states whose nations are literally slipping under the waves “are dead serious about carbon dioxide removal already,” he added.

For David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, “net-zero by 2050 is not long enough.”

“We must revise global targets beyond net zero and commit to net negative strategies,” he said earlier this month.

ALSO READ: Climate agreement: The world’s slow transition to cleaner energy

Source : The South African More   

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Beauty salon a women’s haven in the Taliban’s Kabul

Mohadessa's beauty salon offers Aghanistan women an oasis, providing income and indulgence - in resistance to Taliban seizure

Beauty salon a women’s haven in the Taliban’s Kabul

It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men.

Mohadessa has kept her beauty salon open despite threats from Afghanistan’s new rulers.  

SINCE TALIBAN SIEZED KABUL 

Since the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, many women have disappeared from public spaces, driven into private areas out of fear and sometimes very real threats.

But Mohadessa’s beauty salon has, for now, remained a place where women can relax among themselves outside the household and share their woes — or forget them in favour of fun and fashion.

BEAUTY SALON OASIS 

The oasis of feminine industry provides income for the staff and moments of indulgence for the clients, but its days may be numbered.

“We don’t want to give up and stop working,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur told AFP over the hubbub of women getting ready for a wedding celebration.

“We love that we have a job, and it is necessary for women to work in Afghan society – many of them are the breadwinners for their family.”

READ: Zodwa Wabantu is hiring! Here’s what to do to work in her salon

HAPPY CUSTOMERS 

Customers are dropped off outside and whisked past posters advertising fashion and beauty brands that are now blotted out with white paint.

They quickly disappear into the shop through a heavy curtain.

Once inside, the women shed their headscarves and outer garments and their excited voices compete with the hum of hair-dryers as they choose their new looks.

BEAUTY RISK 

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, between 1996 and the US-led intervention of 2001, women were obliged to wear the all-covering burqa.

Under the Islamist movement’s interpretation of Islamic law, beauty salons were banned outright.

Just having painted nails meant a woman could risk having her fingers cut off.

PRESENTING A LIBERAL FACE 

But since the Taliban returned to the capital and declared their Islamic Emirate, the movement has been at pains to present a more liberal face to the world.

Keen to secure international finance to head off economic disaster that could undermine their war gains, they have not rushed to reimpose restrictions on daily life.

That is not to say Mohadessa has not received threats.

SCREAMING MOB

A Taliban mob has shouted abuse outside her shop, but she has made use of the legal limbo to continue.

“I can say that the women at this salon are courageous because they come to work with fear,” she said.

“Every day they open the salon, they come in, and they continue to work, despite this fear.” 

BRAVE IN THE BEAUTY SALON

On the day AFP visited, around 30 women had braved the climate of fear to come to the shop and prepare for a wedding, where the sexes are traditionally segregated during celebrations.

The women were clearly enjoying the rare chance to dress up and pamper themselves, with elaborate hair and eyelash decorations complementing a colourful make-up palette.

The bride’s sister, English teacher Farkhunda, gazes at the results of an hour-long makeover.

“Yes, it’s nice. It’s beautiful. It’s my first real day out since the end of August,” she said cheerfully.

But under the splash of glittery eye-shadow, one of her pupils is immobile, taken during a gun and bomb attack when she was a teenager.

“You see my eye? I lost it on my way to school when the Taliban attacked us. But I am not scared of them. I don’t want to talk about them. Today is for celebration,” she said.

MESSAGE OF ‘RESISTANCE’

The light-hearted mood is as fragile as the delicate bejewelled hair bands. At every movement of the curtain hiding the door to the outside world, the women stiffen and briefly fall silent.

But none of the clients want to tone down their look, a stylised, ultra-feminine rebuke to the Taliban’s looming curbs on free expression: dense foundation, long false lashes, dazzling colours and a China doll finish.

And 22-year-old Marwa, not her real name, with her asymmetric haircut exposing an ear dotted with piercings and decorative chains, sees a message of “resistance” in the stylings.

“We are not people with blue burkas. We are not people with black burkas. That’s not who we are,” she said.

‘KNIFE TO MY THROAT’

Some of the women dream of leaving, others of change.

Farkhunda hopes she can get back to work while Mohadessa, determined to stay open, fears for her life.

She showed AFP a letter she believes comes from the Taliban’s new Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, warning her to close down.

Her response: “Until they come and put a knife to my throat, I’m staying here.”

by Daphne ROUSSEAU

© Agence France-Presse

Source : The South African More   

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