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Carbon removal gets a boost from the Biden administration

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By Julio Friedmann

· 4 min read

As one of—if not the—most pressing global challenges of our time, climate change requires bold and decisive action from leaders across the world. The Major Economies Forum (MEF), which includes the US, China, India, Brazil, Japan, and the European Union among others, is a critical platform for such action. Established in 2009 as a way to facilitate international cooperation on climate change, the MEF has played a significant role in shaping global climate policy, including laying the foundation for the Paris Agreement in 2015.

In that context, President Biden’s comments to the MEF on April 20 in support of innovation and investment in carbon management and direct air capture mark a significant milestone in the fight against climate change; indeed, he announced a climate counterstrike.

This year, the Biden administration focused its MEF agenda on four key areas, including industrial decarbonization and carbon management.

Carbon management is an essential component of effective climate strategy. The term carbon management refers to technologies and methodologies that directly reduce the flux of CO2 into the air and oceans, as well as remove CO2 from the atmosphere using a variety of approaches. It includes CO2 capture and major emissions sources, recycling of CO2 into products, and the removal of CO2 through natural and engineered pathways, i.e., planting new forests or direct air capture (DAC). The global scientific community has long recognized the critical role of carbon management in abating or removing all emissions everywhere, most recently affirmed in the IPCC’s summary report.

The President’s full statement also emphasized the need for carbon management across all sectors of the economy. This includes reducing emissions from power generation, transportation, and industrial processes, as well as promoting the use of carbon capture and storage technologies. Carbon management will be crucial to decarbonization of key sectors including cement, steel, chemicals, glass, aviation, and maritime shipping in the US and around the world. It’s an excellent point of potential cooperation among the MEF nations, even those with whom the US actively competes.

Direct air capture is a critical tool in the fight against climate change, and we need to invest in its development and deployment."

says President Joseph R. Biden.

The President’s endorsement of carbon management in general and of direct air capture is both important and noteworthy. Despite the scientific and expert consensus on the needs and merits of carbon management for reductions and removals – especially for hard-to-abate sectors – and on the excellent track record of geological storage of CO2, some groups continue to sow doubts about the viability, value, or necessity of these technologies. Thankfully, perspectives as varied as Bill McKibben, John Kerry, Olufemi Taiwo, and Prince William have advocated for the critical role carbon removals must play immediately and into the future to achieve key climate goals, complementing other GHG emissions reductions (including carbon capture and storage (CCS)).

The Biden Administration, and 116th and 117th Congresses, have certainly walked the walk. This includes:

  • bipartisan and bicameral support of the 2020 Energy Act amendments, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act;
  • specific measures, including funding for direct air capture hubs, CO2 pipeline grants and loans, demonstration projects in electric po and heavy industry, tax credits for CO2 capture and storage, innovation investments in CO2-to-products and CO2 removal technology development; and
  • funding to hire and train regulators.

Together, these efforts total well over $50 billion of direct support and incentives.

Within the MEF, similar measures can be found in the UK, Canada, Norway, the EU, China, Japan, Australia, and Indonesia – in large part prompted by US leadership.

Taken together, the Biden administration’s initiatives and Congressional legislation have put the US squarely in a position of leadership around carbon management. The US is already leading in the deployment of these technologies and projects to reduce and remove global emissions, mitigating the worst effects of climate change. These actions create a virtuous cycle across the globe, with MEF nations like Japan, China, India, and Indonesia accelerating the deployment of these critical technologies through regulation, mandates, incentives, and direct investments.

For too long, carbon management has been misunderstood at best and ignored, maligned, underinvested, feared, doubted, and slandered at worst. Investment is important. So is public attention and recognition of the role of carbon management in mitigating climate change. Statements like that of President Biden at the MEF help overcome the real challenges to deployments, address concerns in frontline and fence-line communities, and create new opportunities for trade, prosperity, and environmental redress.

This article is also published on Carbon Direct. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr Julio Friedmann is Chief Scientist and Chief Carbon Wrangler at Carbon Direct. He recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy. More recently, he was a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA.

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