Technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help tackle global warming only have limited potential and more effort should be made to reduce emissions, European scientists said in a report on Wednesday.
Proposals to use climate technologies, ranging from spraying sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground, have been gaining more attention as the urgency to act on climate change mounts.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, world governments have agreed to limit global warming to well below 2?C above preindustrial levels, but a large gap remains between nations’ emissions plans and the reductions needed.
The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, formed from the national science academies of EU members, has reviewed scientific evidence about several options for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with so-called negative-emission technologies.
Examples of such technologies include the direct capture of carbon dioxide and trapping it underground (carbon capture and storage); afforestation and reforestation; land management to increase and fix carbon in soils; and ocean fertilization.
The council, which advises European policymakers, said these technologies have “limited realistic potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere” and not at the scale in some climate forecasts, such as several gigatonnes of carbon each year after 2050.
Their deployment on a large scale would also involve high economic costs and have major impacts on terrestrial or marine ecosystems, the council said in the report.
“Technologies capable of taking out CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the atmosphere are certainly no silver bullet — a point that should drive policymakers to renewed efforts to accelerate emissions reductions,” the report said.
However, the world will need all possible tools to limit warming and some of these technologies can make contributions to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere even now, while further research, development and demonstration might allow others to make a limited future contribution, it added.
Commenting on the report, Andrew Watson, Royal Society research professor at the University of Exeter, said that while some technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could have a role to play in reducing climate change, all have drawbacks making them difficult to use on a large scale.
“So our main focus and best hope for avoiding the worst effects of climate change still needs to be reducing our emissions,” Watson said.
Last week, a leaked draft UN report said there is a high chance that the levels of carbon dioxide removal which might be required to meet the Paris goals might not be feasible due to the required scale and speed of technology deployment.
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