By Lee Beck and Eve Tamme – Orca, the largest direct air capture and storage facility to date, recently commenced operations in Iceland and is expected to suck some 4000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere annually. With increasing climate ambition and the new climate neutrality target, the role of technological carbon removal is emerging as one of the critical points of debate in the European Union. On the one hand, it is evident from mid-century net-zero pathways that steep and transformational emission reductions must be prioritized over carbon removals. On the other hand, it is also becoming clear that carbon removal technologies will likely be needed to balance out residual emissions and reduce the stock of CO2 already in the atmosphere. This begs the question – how can we get this technology to Gigaton scale, so it is available as a decarbonization option? History has taught us that scaling technologies takes decades – time we do not have as the clock is ticking while the climate crisis rages. We need to get the policy framework right today, and there are two significant gaps to fill: commercialization and accounting.
The EU is already a climate leader and policy pioneer. However, the current EU sectoral policies will likely drive investment in advanced decarbonization tech only once technology-specific innovation policy has commercialized them. Considering that it has taken on average more than 20 years for technologies to reach crucial inflection points in deployment, we do not have time to test current, widely adopted decarbonization technologies as the main mitigation strategies before deploying technologies that are not commercially available.
With increasing climate ambition and our emissions reduction timelines shortened, carbon removal technologies will also need to be available sooner. Having multiple available technology options also increases our chances for success and provides countries and regions with the opportunity to design decarbonization technology portfolios tailored to their social, economic and resource circumstances. Hence, it’s time for Europe to embrace an innovation-forward approach to climate. more>