What "net-zero" emission targets means for the carbon removal field

The Carbon Brief recently published a fantastic article explaining the implications of “net zero” climate targets in the context of international climate negotiations. The Carbon Brief article does a great job of highlighting the fact that “negative emission technologies” – or carbon dioxide removal (“CDR”) approaches are critical for enabling the global economy to achieve a "net zero” commitment. The article goes on to note that, “however, there are clear limits to negative emissions and many options...remain unproven.”  The emphasis is mine, as I think this fact has enormous implications for preventing climate change.  Without proven, scalable, and sustainable CDR solutions, “net-zero” targets will prove highly challenging to meet: “net-zero emission” would become simply “zero emission” targets – certainly doable, but today looking far from certain from occurring.

A “net-zero” (let alone “below-zero”) target, then, risks being an empty goal if such targets are not accompanied by increased efforts to develop CDR technologies. A recent report on CDR from the National Academy of Sciences highlights that:

“If carbon removal technologies are to be viable, it is critical now to embark on a research program to lower the technical barriers to efficacy and affordability while remaining open to new ideas, approaches and synergies.”

The NAS study stops short of identifying details of what research is needed to develop scalable, sustainable, CDR solutions, and there is little talk in established science/technology R&D funding agencies about scaling up levels of CDR R&D. So as talk of “net zero” targets increase, so too must conversation about increased R&D funding for CDR in order to make such “net zero” targets credible.