23 January 2023

New report reveals ‘large gap’ in CO2 removal needed to limit global warming

Estimated reading time: 2 Minutes
  • For the first time, a new report provides a comprehensive assessment of the current state of global carbon dioxide removal (CDR).
  • 99.9% of current CDR is from conventional methods such as afforestation and 0.1%  is from novel methods such as biochar, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture with carbon capture and storage (DACCS).
  • There is a large gap between how much CDR countries are planning and what is needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal.
  • 1,300x more CDR from new technologies – and twice as much from trees and soils – may be necessary to limit temperatures to well below 2°C.

The global state of carbon dioxide removal

CDR from the atmosphere, alongside rapidly reducing emissions, is needed to reach the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit warming to well below 2°C and
pursue efforts to achieve 1.5°C.

This is highlighted in the first “State of Carbon Dioxide Removal” report, which convenes over 20 experts in the field of CDR and was led by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

According to the report, almost all current CDR comes from conventional removal methods on land (2 GtCO2 per year), primarily via planting trees and managing soils.

Countries need to maintain and expand this, approximately doubling in 1.5°C pathways and increasing by around 50% in 2°C pathways by 2050 compared to 2020 levels. 

But virtually all pathways also require new CDR technologies, such as BECCS, biochar, enhanced rock weathering and DACCS. New CDR technologies make up only a tiny fraction of current CDR (0.002 GtCO2 per year). Closing the CDR gap requires rapid growth of these new CDR technologies, by a factor of 1,300 on average by 2050.

The report is intended to regularly inform researchers, policymakers and practitioners on the state of progress, by systematically collecting and analysing the vast amount of data and developments in many parts of the world.

To limit warming to 2°C or lower, we need to accelerate emissions reductions. But the findings of
this report are clear: we also need to increase carbon removal, too, by restoring and enhancing
ecosystems and rapidly scaling up new CDR methods. Many new methods are
emerging with potential. Rather than focusing on one or two options we should encourage a
portfolio, so that we get to net zero quickly without over-relying on any one method.
Dr Steve Smith, Executive Director, Oxford Net Zero & CO2RE

What's next for CDR?

CDR is not a silver bullet, as pathways that limit warming to 2°C or lower require deep cuts to emissions in addition to, not in place of, CDR. Our dependence on CDR can be limited by reducing emissions fast and using energy more efficiently, say the report authors.

While research, innovation and public awareness of CDR have expanded, closing the CDR gap requires urgent and comprehensive policy support. The amount of CDR deployment required in the second half of the century will only be feasible if we see substantial new deployment in the next 10 years – novel CDR’s formative phase.

"Innovation in CDR has expanded dramatically in the past two years, as measured by investment in capacity, publicly funded research, and patents. But given the orders of magnitude the CDR industry needs to grow by mid-century to limit warming, there is an urgent need for comprehensive policy support to spur growth," says co-author Professor Gregory Nemet of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

"CDR is not something we could do, but something we absolutely have to do to reach the Paris Agreement temperature goal," said author Dr Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "More than 120 national governments have a net-zero emissions target, which implies using CDR, but few governments have actionable plans for developing it. This presents a major shortfall."

"Right now critical information on CDR is widely dispersed and difficult to access. This hampers progress," says author Jan Minx from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin. "The state of CDR research, development and policy lags behind - similar to renewables 25 years ago. Good decisions and accelerated progress in the field  of CDRrequire adequate data. This report will help improve this situation step-by-step with the wider CDR community."

With thanks to our funders

With thanks to: the Natural Environment Research Council (UK), European Research
Council, Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany), Carbon Gap and Bank of America.

The project was also supported by CO2RE, GENIE, CDRSynTra and ASMASYS.

Find out more and download the full report.