September 2016: Taking stock of international action on climate and carbon removal

The Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 at COP21 was a big step forward for the international conversation on climate change, and created a number of mechanisms that could help accelerate the development of carbon removal solutions (here’s a recap of our coverage of COP21). With Climate Week NYC and the annual UN General Assembly meetings in full swing, it’s a prime time to check in on the status of international climate policy efforts related to carbon removal, and to see where the momentum created at COP21 has led over the past nine months.

At a high-level, action coming out of COP21 has continued to show steady signs of progress for the overall climate conversation. More quickly than anticipated, countries have begun the formal ratification process needed to bring the Paris Agreement into force. Thirty-one more nations ratified the Agreement this week in NYC (major emitters US and China had already ratified), and leaders expect that the agreement will become officially ratified by the end of this year. These continued steps to bring the Paris Agreement into legal force are a strong signal that policymakers around the world are committed to the bold goals agreed upon at COP21.

Cities for Climate at COP21 in Paris

Cities for Climate at COP21 in Paris

 

Speaking of bold goals, there has been a flurry of activity by the research community around the long-term ambition of the Paris Agreement to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.  While the inclusion of a 1.5°C long-term goal in the Paris Agreement was a big win for climate champions, it came as a bit of a surprise to the research community that had focused much of their effort on understanding 2°C pathways, leaving open a number of questions about how exactly we can make the 1.5°C goal a reality. To address this situation, scientists at the IPCC have been hard at work setting up a 1.5°C working group to tackle the important questions that surrounding meeting the 1.5°C goal, and scientists gathered just this week in Oxford for a big conference on the topic. Given how important carbon removal is for meeting a 2°C temperature limit, it likely will prove even more important for meeting our 1.5°C ambition – researchers will likely have a much more detailed and nuanced picture by 2018 when the IPCC publishes its 1.5°C Special Report.

As scientists continue to research the role that carbon removal plays in meeting climate goals, high-ranking energy and climate officials have begun signaling the need to start tackling tough questions around developing and deploying carbon removal solutions – especially in conversations on energy innovation. U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz mentioned during his remarks to the UN General Assembly earlier this week that he thinks “we’re going to need to have more breakthroughs, including breakthroughs in what [we] would call advanced carbon management for the long term like large-scale CO2 utilization. For example, negative carbon technologies.”

While this rhetoric is encouraging, the conversation has yet to result into concrete actions directly related to carbon removal. For example, at the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings in San Francisco in June, there was little discussion of how Mission Innovation investments in clean energy could also include carbon-negative energy solutions. On the land use side, we are also waiting for specific details on initiatives like the 4 pour 1000 soil carbon sequestration initiative, and landscape restoration efforts like the Great Green Wall in sub-Saharan Africa.

Great Green Wall booth at COP 21

Great Green Wall booth at COP 21

Despite the fact that we have yet to see much action on these fronts, a number of upcoming events have the potential to continue to shift the needle on conversation about carbon removal solutions. COP22 in November (the first full gathering of the UN climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement was signed last year) and the annual Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum meeting this October have can aim to support action on a range of land use and energy sector carbon removal solutions in addition to their original scope. Over the coming months (and years), we’ll likely see increased action to translate the Paris Agreement goals into concrete achievements.

So stay tuned here – we’ll make sure to highlight key international initiatives as progress is made!