Australia must set targets for amount of CO2 to be removed from air, scientists say
Australia should set targets for the amount of carbon dioxide that could be pulled permanently from the atmosphere using “carbon drawdown” techniques like tree planting and direct air capture, according to a report from the Australian Academy of Science.
A national coordinated approach is urgently needed to promote projects that remove carbon dioxide from the air, the report says, with a lack of policies seeing Australia fall behind other countries.
In a foreword to the report, the academy’s president, Prof Chennupati Jagadish, said it was clear if the world was to keep global heating to 1.5C, then CO2 removal would need to be deployed at the same time as rapidly cutting emissions.
“Humanity cannot afford to underestimate the urgency and magnitude of this task,” he wrote.
Approaches that fall under carbon dioxide removal include tree planting, stopping deforestation, increasing carbon in soils, protecting carbon stored in coastal ecosystems and using machines to pull CO2 directly from the air and lock it away.
Australia had “limited mechanisms to support the development and deployment of many negative emissions solutions” the report said, especially those apart from retaining and increasing the carbon stored in trees or storing CO2 underground.
Prof Deanna D’Alessandro of the University of Sydney, one of the experts that helped coordinate the report, said Australia’s conversation around carbon dioxide removal was a decade behind other countries.
“Our economy and sociopolitical environment has been driven by fossil fuels,” she said.
“It’s only recently that the moral hazard argument around mitigation has been dealt with and we have only just shifted past that. But the opportunities for Australia are enormous and we have a massive responsibility because of our contribution to the greenhouse gas problem.”
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The academy’s report is a summary of the views of 17 experts who also came together for a roundtable last year.
A policy brief from the academy alongside the report recommends carbon dioxide removal should have its own targets and be reported under Australia’s international climate pledges.
The CSIRO released a report in December that outlined how much CO2 different approaches could pull down and store, and the relative costs and barriers.
Technologies including tree planting and increasing carbon in soils were considered to be cheaper and more developed. Other methods, including direct air-capture, were currently less well-developed and likely much more expensive.
Some approaches were able to lock carbon away for longer. Projects on land such as growing and retaining trees were likely less permanent than storing captured CO2 underground.
Prof Mark Howden, director of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, said: “We need to get serious about CO2 removal.”
He said the academy’s report reflected that policy needed to catch up with the realisation that CO2 removal would be needed, even though stopping emissions in the first place should remain the highest priority.
“CO2 removal should be like a last resort,” he said, saying it was “far cheaper” to avoid putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by avoiding burning fossil fuels than it was to remove it later.
Howden, who was also part of the academy’s group of experts, said: “It makes a lot of sense for the government to develop a strategy and start to implement that using existing mechanisms to support research and development, under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and [government-backed research centres].”
D’Alessandro, who is involved with a direct air capture project, said all approaches would be needed.
“The problem is so big that we are going to need all the solutions we can throw at it,” she said, adding all approaches would need to be ethical and environmentally sustainable.
In the next six weeks, the Climate Change Authority is expected to release its own “insights paper” on CO2 removal and its potential in Australia.