In December, we checked in with you about the exciting developments around carbon removal over the past year. (If you missed them, you can read the policy, business, and international recaps on our blog.) In 2017, we expect carbon removal advocates to build upon the momentum created in 2016 to actualize even more progress. Here is what each member of our team is looking forward to in the coming year.
Science & Policy
Associate Director of Research & Operations
In 2016, a number of large-scale research projects around carbon removal were announced. While many of those studies won’t be done until at least 2018, we will likely hear inklings of the the initial findings from those preliminary meetings. For one, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences study which will outline a carbon removal research agenda, will be in full swing by mid-2017. There will also be a large effort from the international science community to complete research for the IPCC’s Special Report on the 1.5C target, due to be published in 2018. We can expect a number of new peer-reviewed papers relevant to the role of carbon removal solutions in keeping global temperature increase to below 1.5C to hit the scientific press throughout this year.
Internationally, the UK’s NERC will likely award its solicitations for its newest research program on greenhouse gas removal technologies (i.e. carbon removal). Towards the end of the year, we can expect to see updates to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report and the Global Carbon Project’s carbon budget. These reports are released annually and track the ability of current climate pledges meet our climate targets. Because of this, they have historically been a strong and pragmatic indicator of the importance of carbon removal solutions in fighting climate change.
Thinking about U.S. Federal policy in 2017, it is likely too early to tell what a new Administration and the 115th Congress have in store for carbon removal. There has been quite a bit of talk about the Trump Administration’s potential support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) (see this NY Times article with intel from Senator Heidi Heitkamp). This potential interest suggests that industrial carbon removal solutions and their pathway technologies could see bipartisan support in 2017 -- especially if there is continued support for tax incentives for CCS and CO2 utilization like the options explored by the 114th Congress (see the Carbon Capture and Utilization Act from mid-2016).
On the land side, however, Congress has begun to signal a movement to give more control of public lands to states. This creates opportunities for state governments to pursue land-based carbon sequestration efforts, and we can expect California to lead the way by continuing to implement programs to meet its targets around healthy soils and soil-based emissions reductions.
Business & Technology
On the technology front, we can expect that the trend set in 2016 of a growing number of industrial CO2 management projects coming online will continue into the new year. These projects will hopefully provide valuable lessons for carbon removal projects in the future. For example, the Petra Nova CCS project in Texas is expected to be the first commercial-scale post-combustion capture project at a power plant in the U.S., and the commercial upgrade of the ADM CCS project in Decatur, IL will make it the largest bioenergy + CCS project in the U.S. In addition, direct air capture pilots from companies like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks will gain critical operational experience. Collectively, these projects should shed lights on how well various technologies perform in the field, which will help inform larger-scale carbon removal efforts into the future.
On the business front, efforts to incorporate carbon sequestration activities into corporate supply chain and climate-resiliency efforts are only likely to increase. Many corporate leaders are still likely to be in learning mode when it comes to carbon removal. However, some of the first-movers in this space are close to making big procurement commitments for carbon management solutions and it would not be a surprise to see new businesses publicly launch carbon removal efforts in 2017.
International Land Use
Associate Director of Land Use
On the international front, we see a number of opportunities for progress in the land sector, even without any major new international policies or commitments. Many countries will begin to implement their plans for reducing deforestation and accelerating forest restoration. These plans won’t come into full swing until 2020, but given that hundreds of millions of acres are slated for restoration, countries will be gearing up for projects at a massive scale.
Meanwhile, work will proceed on transforming agriculture to use more climate-conscious systems. The theme of “restorative agriculture” could take hold, since it offers the potential to increase soil health (and the value of the land asset), even as productivity increases. In addition, forest and crop residues may play a bigger role in generating electricity, and rising demand for these feedstocks could begin to trigger additional planting of new forests and perennial biomass crops.
Policies at the national level will likely accelerate these processes in some places. For instance, China and India are looking to the land sector to produce additional renewable energy. In the US, action is likely to be driven at the state level, with economic forces continuing to fuel growth in renewables, driving more production of biological feedstocks. For agriculture, new investments – especially from the private sector – could have a catalytic effect toward making carbon-sequestering practices commonplace.