Evaluation Criteria to Assess Carbon Removal Technologies

We are on the cusp of surpassing climate tipping points from which we may not be able to recover. There have been thousands of studies documenting the veracity of anthropogenic climate change and its wide-ranging catastrophic impacts have been extensively investigated by researchers. There is a clear and unequivocal consensus that human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are driving the climate crisis.  Atmospheric carbon emissions have been steadily rising since the industrial revolution and along with these increases, we have seen consistent increases in global average temperatures. A sizable body of evidence on current and projected GHG emissions clearly shows that we are not reducing global emissions and we are ebbing ever closer to the upper-temperature threshold limits. The research conclusively supports the finding that to minimize further warming we must radically reduce atmospheric GHGs in the near term, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) as it is known to be the GHG that is driving the largest increases in average sea and air temperatures. To address this herculean challenge, we propose three evaluation criteria to assess technologies that reduce atmospheric carbon: viability, scalability and cost.

The only way we can keep temperatures from surpassing the upper-temperature threshold limit is through the widespread deployment of technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Evaluation criteria can help us to identify the most effective strategies from the dozens of technologies that are available to us. We propose that these and future technologies should be assessed based on three criteria: viability, scalability, and cost. We can use these criteria to assess carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies, negative emissions technologies (NETs), and natural climate solutions (NCS).  These criteria can assess the ability of each of these technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere (viability), how quickly each of these technologies can be scaled (scalability), and their monetary and other costs (costs). 

1. Viability: Which technologies can remove the most carbon from the atmosphere?

We have selected three criteria to assess carbon removal technologies. The first is viability which relates to the technology’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Viability is crucial to determine which technologies can remove the most carbon. 

2. Scalability: How quickly can the technology be built out?

The second is its scalability or its ability to be rapidly built out at a massive scale all around the world. This is of great importance as we have between five and ten years before we breach the 1.5 upper-temperature limits so these technologies will need to be deployed on a massive scale in an unprecedented timeframe. 

3. Cost: How much does the technology cost?

The third is cost. This entails both monetary costs, to determine the most cost-effective technologies as well as other costs, including resource and land use. 

We need to be able to assess carbon removal technologies to respond to the urgent need for CO2 removal as well as to address the massive scale and scope of this undertaking. The three criteria reviewed above offer an effective methodological framework to assess individual carbon removal technologies.

For references go to CDR Resources. See also Glossary of Terminology Related to CDR.

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