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Forests, grassland and other biomass remove carbon dioxide from the air now – and, properly looked after, could do much more. Mechanical methods of removing carbon dioxide, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture (DAC), are ineffective and may never work at scale.
So public funds poured into mechanical carbon capture projects, often operated by oil companies, should be redirected to proven biological methods, and to monitoring technologies that can check how effective they are.
These are the conclusions of a new paper by a US-based research team of scientists, economists and policy analysts, headed by June Sekera of the New School for Social Research in New York.
To avert dangerous global warming, the volume of CO2 and other greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuels, needs to fall to zero. CO2 removal could help compensate for emissions that are harder to stop.
The amounts of CO2 that could be removed from the atmosphere by biological methods will never come close to the amounts being poured in by fossil fuel burning. But, over time, they could help – and will definitely go farther than the mechanical carbon capture methods beloved of some politicians, journalists and other techno-optimists. (See “Quick technological catch up”, below.)
In the US, the total amount of CO2 now being removed from the air by mechanical methods is zero, Sekera and her colleagues found – while biological methods are removing about 0.9 billion tonnes per year (Gt/year).
That amount could be more than doubled by the preservation and restoration of forests, grasslands and wetlands, amplified urban tree cover and accelerated regenerative agriculture practices.
An additional 1 billion Gt/year of CO2 captured would equate to around one-fifth of current US emissions. So it is no substitute for rapid decarbonisation. But the research team’s results provide good reasons to cut off the billions of dollars of funding going to mechanical carbon capture projects – or “a taxpayer-financed sewer system for the fossil fuel industry”, as Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Centre, called it.
In the US, mechanical methods of carbon capture (CCS and DAC) received $10.7 billion in subsidies from Congress in 2010-2021; $1 billion in tax credits in 2010-2019; and $12 billion in the 2021 infrastructure spending package – 66 times more than the $180 million included for new programmes related, only indirectly, to biological sequestration.Read the rest of this entry »