The goal of the Paris Climate Accord is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the point beyond which the impacts of climate change are feared to be most severe and enduring. Staying below the 2 degree limit will require two complementary strategies. The first, mitigation, is now familiar, and involves limiting carbon dioxide emissions today by turning to cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency.
The second strategy is equally important in limiting future climate impacts, yet has received much less attention in public dialogue and policy circles. Negative emissions doesn’t yet exist in any practical sense, yet it will be counted upon to remove decades worth of carbon dioxide emissions from Earth’s atmosphere by the end of this century.
At their best, negative emissions technologies will play a vital role in holding climate change in check. But the technologies may also give us a false sense of security that today’s carbon emissions can reversed at some point in the future.
Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Oslo, Norway, takes a close look at negative emissions, from their potential to the political and economic challenges that need to be overcome if they’re to have a meaningful impact on the climate.