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Natural Solutions, Carbon Removal, and Innovation Get Top Billing in Latest IPCC Climate Report

Although a ~3,000-page climate report written by scientists from around the world is undoubtedly not light reading, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains a treasure trove of information that we at BPC will continue to sift through for months. But right away, three excerpts from the IPCC’s headline statements stand out for us as notable for their strong conclusions that bolster the evidence base for BPC’s policy priorities regarding natural climate solutions, carbon dioxide removal, and technology innovation. At the same time, however, the new report continues to make clear that no one set of strategies will be the silver bullet and that the next decade is crucial for getting on a net-zero emissions pathway.

AFOLU mitigation options, when sustainably implemented, can deliver large-scale GHG emission reductions and enhanced removals.

The IPCC’s assessment of pathways to global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions provides the strongest evidence yet that the lands sector is a key contributor to cost-effective mitigation. Scientists are learning from years of research into Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) strategies—also known as natural climate solutions—for increasing the amount of carbon stored in plants, trees, and soils, and reducing emissions from agriculture and forestry. The IPCC finds that a lack of financing and technical know-how are important barriers to large-scale implementation and that carbon storage reversal risks (i.e., carbon being re-released back into the atmosphere) must be managed. On balance, though, reaching global net-zero emissions will not be possible without contributions from agriculture, forestry, and lands.

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BPC has identified a comprehensive set of policy recommendations addressing financial, technical assistance, and R&D barriers facing a rapid scale-up of natural climate solutions in the United States. Policy priorities include voluntary and incentive-based programs for private working lands, together with climate-focused public lands management. Smart federal investments can seed transformational private investment in our agricultural and forestry sectors, providing new revenue streams to American farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners while delivering valuable co-benefits in terms of wildlife habitat, recreation amenities, and air and water quality, and increased resilience to the damaging effects of climate change itself.

The deployment of CDR to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions is unavoidable if net-zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved.

For the first time, the IPCC has unequivocally concluded that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be required to achieve net-zero emissions. CDR refers to human activities to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and durably store it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. CDR is described as achieving “negative emissions” that can balance out the positive side of the emissions ledger to reach an overall level of net-zero emissions. CDR will be necessary for three primary reasons over different timeframes: (1) in the near term (e.g., in the next decade), it reduces net emissions and can help get the world on a realistic pathway to net-zero; (2) in the medium term (e.g., by 2050), it offsets “hard-to-abate residual emissions,” which are the remaining sources of greenhouse gases that won’t be practically or economically feasible to eliminate to reach net-zero (e.g., industrial processes, aviation, marine shipping, etc.); and (3) in the long-term (e.g., 2050 and beyond), it can produce and sustain net-negative emissions at different levels, such as global, national, sectoral, or supply chain levels.

Having recognized the promise of CDR and the growing bipartisan interest in CDR practices and technologies, BPC established the Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force and Direct Air Capture Advisory Council to promote federal policy innovation and reduce barriers to scaling up and maturing emerging markets for the range of natural to technological CDR solutions. We also pushed for game-changing CDR provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to support scale up to the gigaton level by 2050.

For direct air capture (DAC), the world’s largest facility is now operational in Iceland and there are plans underway for a 1 million ton facility to be built and operational in Texas by 2025. Despite the current high cost of DAC facility construction and operation, the environmental, business, and federal policy cases are clear, and, as noted by the IPCC, is subject to fewer environmental barriers when compared to other CDR methods. Reaching gigaton capacity by 2050 requires significant scale-up this decade. DAC Hubs, which received $3.5 billion in the IIJA, are a major opportunity to deploy and demonstrate DAC across the United States this decade.

A range of ocean-based CDR approaches are also explored in detail for the first time in the IPCC report, given emerging science on the carbon storage potential of aquatic ecosystems and seawater itself, which per unit volume is estimated to store 150 times more carbon than air. The IPCC notes that ocean-based methods are at different stages of maturity and development, but together have a combined potential to remove a substantial amount of carbon from the atmosphere. BPC has identified the need for increased investment in ocean CDR research and innovation, as well as robust governance and community engagement to ensure these strategies are deployed in ways that protect the marine environment and support marine economies.

The unit costs of several low-emission technologies have fallen continuously since 2010. Innovation policy packages have enabled these cost reductions and supported global adoption.

The IPCC has elevated its focus on innovation, technology development, and transfer by devoting an entire chapter to this topic for the first time. They highlight new and definitive evidence that innovation policies, such as public R&D, funding for demonstration and pilot projects, and deployment subsidies, drive substantial cost reductions for key low-carbon technologies. BPC’s American Energy Innovation Council, a group of business, technology, and labor leaders, have spent the past decade championing more effective federal innovation programs that can achieve key energy, economic, and climate goals. These priorities include new finance and governance models for scaleup of clean energy technologies and continued programmatic support for clean energy entrepreneurs, global energy competitiveness, and energy innovation ecosystems across America.

The new IPCC report throws the gauntlet for society to take bold action now if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The scale of the climate challenge is so large, and the stakes are so high, that the world must be able to draw on a large, diverse, and flexible toolset of policies and technologies to succeed.

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