Why carbon removal is the next frontier in corporate climate action

Noah Deich

Monday, September 19, 2016 - 12:41am

Carbon Engineering has developed a direct air capture pilot project in
Squamish, British Columbia, capable of "mining the sky" for CO2 that can be
converted into renewable synthetic fuels or sequestered underground to
produce "negative emissions."

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on corporate sustainability and carbon

An increasing number of large companies track and report their direct and
indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — also known as Scope 1-3 GHG
reporting. However, corporate climate action addressing Scope 1-3 emissions
will get us only part of the way to delivering on the Paris Agreement
pledge of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5

Scientists are increasingly clear that we will need to go beyond reducing
emissions and also deploy solutions capable of cleaning up the CO2 that
remains in the atmosphere from past emissions if we want to make our global
climate commitments a reality.

Because time travel is not an option, we will need to develop what are
known as "carbon removal" solutions that can clean up large volumes of CO2
from the atmosphere. A wide variety of carbon removal solutions have been
proposed, ranging from basic tree planting and ecosystem restoration to
high-tech devices that hoover up CO2 directly from the atmosphere, as shown
in the figure below. While carbon removal solutions face many
commercialization hurdles,estimates show a very large technical scale
potential for a portfolio of solutions if these challenges are tackled

To fully incorporate carbon removal into corporate climate action
strategies, corporate sustainability leaders will need to start developing
a definition for "Scope 4" emissions that shows how much CO2 each company
is responsible for cleaning up from the atmosphere.

And they will need to get started on this task as soon as possible, as
defining Scope 4 emissions in a clear and fair manner undoubtedly will be
challenging. For example, leaders tackling Scope 4 emissions will need to
grapple with issues such as:

How much CO2 should we be aiming to remove in the first place, and by
when?Do we assign an individual company’s Scope 4 emissions responsibility
by historic cumulative emissions, or by some other proportional metric such
as revenue or current GHG emissions?How do we measure and verify action on
Scope 4 emissions to ensure reliability, safety and ecological
sustainability?How do we ensure extra action on Scope 4 emissions isn’t
used as an excuse to slow down action on reducing Scope 1-3 emissions?

There are a number of emerging conversations in the corporate
sustainability world where discussion of Scope 4 emissions naturally can
fit. For example, companies such as Kaiser Permanente have pledged to have
a net-negative footprint through the use ofrenewables and offsets by 2025,
and Interface’s "climate take back" initiative aims to "bring carbon home
and reverse climate change." Efforts such as these could serve as a
launchpad for broader corporate engagement and coalitions of key
stakeholders working to wrap their arms around carbon removal and the Scope
4 emission challenge.

While the details are fuzzy on how to track and manage Scope 4 emissions
today, it is clear that carbon removal represents the next frontier of
climate action

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