New California bill could advance carbon removal while holding polluters accountable – The Hill
Earlier this week, the newest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spelled out in detail how 1.1 degrees Celsius of global warming have already led to unprecedented shifts in weather patterns and devastating human impacts across the globe. The report also highlighted the solutions we must immediately implement to help the world limit warming to 1.5 degrees — the threshold scientists agree will prevent the most dangerous effects. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it, this requires us to do everything, everywhere, all at once.
One essential solution? Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), in which greenhouse gases are actively removed from the atmosphere through natural or technological means. While many questions remain regarding how to scale up and deploy this solution, California has set ambitious goals and is taking steps to figure it out, including considering new legislation.
The IPCC — which is the foremost scientific authority on climate change — finds that even if the world quickly reduces greenhouse gas emissions toward zero by mid-century, we will still need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in order to minimize catastrophic damage. This is in part because some sectors (including agriculture, aviation and industrial processes) will prove especially challenging to cut emissions down to zero.
While some heavy-emitting industries (including oil) have recently shown interest in CDR as a potential tool to justify continuing their own operations, the truth is that CDR will only be an effective tool against the climate crisis if it is used to complement deep emissions reductions rather than empowering polluters to prolong their activities. Last year, California adopted a framework requiring at least an 85 percent reduction in direct emissions by 2045, leaving at most 15 percent to be addressed through CDR under strict oversight.
California is the fourth-largest economy in the world and has long been a climate solutions leader. It is now poised to add to that record with the innovative Carbon Dioxide Removal Act (SB 308), introduced in February by Democratic state Sen. Josh Becker. The bill would require that by December 31, 2027, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopt a regulation requiring high-emitting entities, such as refineries, cement kilns and power plants, to purchase “negative emissions credits” to compensate for their own climate impact. The requirement would start small — just 1 percent of the source’s emissions in 2030 — but would ramp up to require emitters to compensate for 100 percent of their residual emissions by 2045, giving the state a way to ensure it achieves its net-zero emissions target. Under this law, CARB would establish rules and processes for certifying carbon dioxide removal practices that may be used to create negative emissions credits and for verifying that these credits represent carbon that is removed from the atmosphere and expected to be sequestered for 1,000 years or more (and guaranteed to be sequestered for at least 100 years).
This bill, which if passed will be the first state-level CDR legislation of its kind, is a great example of how governments can ensure that polluters are held accountable for the carbon they emit — the fairest way to enforce crucial net-zero emissions targets. Policies like these can both encourage sources to reduce their emissions as much as possible — to avoid the cost of carbon removal — and make sure that carbon removal is deployed at the needed scale.
The next step is for the California legislature to pass this bill so the state can hold polluters accountable and live up to its commitment to build a cleaner, fairer future for all Californians.
Dan Lashof is the director of World Resources Institute, United States. Follow him on Twitter: @DLashof
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