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All you need to know about negative emissions

All you need to know about negative emissions
By Climate Solutions • Issue #3 • View online
Welcome back,
I’m Paul and this month, our climate change newsletter is back (it may be summer, but no rest for the wicked!) with a dive into negative emissions.
You may have heard of the glitzy, high-tech devices that pull CO2 out of the air, but did you know that humble seaweed can do the same thing?
We’ve got Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University, to explain what negative emissions mean, why we need them, and how these can be developed. Below you’ll find an abridged version of an interview with Shaun—which we’ve edited down somewhat for clarity, brevity and your reading pleasure.
The full version should soon be released by a leading climate action group. Keep your eyes peeled for a link to the video in an upcoming newsletter!

Ottawa National Forest
Ottawa National Forest
What are negative emissions?
Negative emissions are processes that take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, for good ideally. Unless an approach converts one greenhouse gas from a particularly potent form to another less potent one, the gas has to be stored somewhere other than the atmosphere. This could be through geological storage, in a forest, a marine environment, the soil, or even part of a building. 
Why do we need negative emissions?
Unfortunately, we need negative emissions because of the damage we have already inflicted upon the climate. Today, we are already at something north of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Pre-industrial, we were at 270. The really sad fact is that we’ve already put too much up there.
The second fact is that we’re not turning the taps off, in terms of emissions, fast enough. It’s going to take us a while to transition to a zero-emissions or near-zero-emissions economy. And we’re never going to get those taps fully off. In those very hard-to-abate sectors, for example, agriculture, we’re going need to have some negative emissions to counterbalance continued emissions.
Which negative emissions solutions are available now?
Ones already being used include nature-based solutions—including land-based ones, like restoring forests, and also ocean-based approaches, for example the restoration of kelp beds and wetlands around the coastal regions. These are really, really important because 70% of the planet is oceans.
Other approaches include creating new forests. But we need to tread very carefully with that to account for effects on biodiversity.
Then there are technological solutions. Things like bio-energy, carbon capture storage or direct air capture, which are being tried at a small scale right now. As we try these things out, we need to monitor very carefully the impacts on local communities and biodiversity.
Do we have all the technologies we need?
I don’t think the current technologies alone are going to be sufficient to be able to cope with the negative emissions that we’re going to need as a future society. We need more research to develop more techniques, such as those that can remove methane from the atmosphere. As the planet warms, more methane will be released from the Arctic. Most of the approaches developed to date don’t deal with that.
Why can’t we rely on just one or a few technologies?
We will need a portfolio of approaches of negative emissions technologies because any single one of those is unlikely to have the scale that’s necessary for the future. Also, if we put all of our eggs in one basket, that’s a very risky strategy for what is a very, very important problem.
If you’re at the helm of a company or institution, how should you be looking at this challenge of negative emissions?
I think all of us, all institutions, all countries, have a responsibility for future generations. What we do in the next five or ten years is really going to have a massive impact on future generations. That, for me, is the driving force for the development of negative emissions technologies. It may well transpire that some of the things deployable today may not be the answer in the longer term. But we have to do what we can now.
What are some of the big research questions that need to be answered?
We need more modelling work on the impact of some ideas that haven’t really been progressed. For instance, things like the role of giant kelp in the ocean. But the most important thing is that the research needs to encompass many different disciplines, including not only physical and biological sciences but the full spectrum of social sciences, business schools and law.
But first, we must start by engaging with those who are going to be most affected by climate change. I’m thinking of not only the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and people in the Southern Hemisphere living in low-lying countries—but also those who are least able to afford ways of adapting to climate change. We really need to listen to their views on the sorts of actions and research we should be undertaking to combat climate change. There’s still a lot more to be done in terms of engagement.
Paul’s reading list:
Looking for more climate reading to keep you going over those long August days? Here’s what I’ve been reading…
Paul Dawson
“We live in fear... We’re always wondering, when will they kill us?” Hekurari Yanomami

Proposed legislation would make it impossible for Indigenous people to reclaim lands taken prior to 1988.

#ClimateAction ClimateJustice
https://t.co/OZAum7p0uy
Paul Dawson
As our climate continues to warm, its baseline is shifting. How these hazards and their causes interact is therefore also changing fast, challenging the very definition of extreme weather events. @Dr_Chris_White

#ClimateAction #ClimateChange
https://t.co/lEhbepBzb4
Paul Dawson
644.6 mm (25.38 inches) of rain in the 24 hours ending at 21st July 20.

This is literally more than a year’s worth of rain.

Extreme rains in China are expected to increase in the warming climate!

#ActOnClimate https://t.co/qOyO0JbE9n
That’s it for this month, if you like this newsletter please like and share to help others find it.
Stay cool and see you again in September. Our next issue will be on September the 7th.
Until next time,
Paul
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