Emissions caused by human activities have already raised the average temperature of the earth by approximately 1°C. We are already witnessing increasing volatility in weather and sea-level rise and scientists tell us that if warming reaches 1.5°C we can expect major disruption to human and natural systems and irreversible damage to our world, particularly to ecosystems. All pathways to keeping global warming below 1.5°C require both reducing our emissions to net-zero AND actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Why is this?
There are two main problems relating to atmospheric carbon and climate change:
# 1 – There is too much carbon and other greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and this is causing global warming.
# 2 – Human activities are causing a net flow of carbon into the atmosphere by releasing existing sequestered carbon at a faster rate than natural processes can draw it back down. This is adding to problem # 1.
This brings us to the question of carbon removal vs carbon avoidance. What are they and what is the difference?
Carbon Removal also called carbon sequestration or negative emissions means the activities of a project are measurably removing carbon from the atmosphere. This directly addresses problem # 1.
Carbon Avoidance means that the activities of a project are causing measurably less carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere than if the project did not exist. This addresses problem # 2.
While both of these approaches are essential to avoid catastrophic impact to our ecosystems and environment but there is an increasing emphasis on Removals as being the most critical. See here for an excellent summary of why. Currently, there are many carbon avoidance projects under implementation, but carbon removal is under-represented in the carbon markets and typically more difficult to achieve. The sooner carbon removal efforts are scaled up, the less likely it is that we will overshoot the 1.5°C, so it is of critical importance.
A clear strategy for climate action is important as we aim reduce our own emissions and support both removals and avoidance. Oxford University has established the following principles for effective carbon offsetting:
1. Prioritise reducing your own emissions first, ensure the environmental integrity of any offsets used, and disclose how offsets are used
2. Shift offsetting towards carbon removal, where offsets directly remove carbon from the atmosphere
3. Shift offsetting towards long-lived storage, which removes carbon from the atmosphere permanently or almost permanently
4. Support for the development of a market for net zero aligned offsets
Our portfolio takes these principles seriously – we will always include carbon removal projects in the portfolio. We will also move towards a ratio of removal and avoidance credits that matches current scientific advice on the most efficient pathways to avoiding global warming. One of our registry partners, Puro.earth, is entirely dedicated to growing and financing removals projects, an effort we whole heartedly applaud and support.