Negative emissions can unlock the era of net-zero

The world has ambitious plans to tackle climate change, and the clock is ticking. The EU has set a challenging target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, driven by a boost in renewable energy sources, which are earmarked to reach a much higher share of the overall energy mix over the next years and decades.

To reach these targets, aggressive action is required to further bring down CO2 emissions – a task that poses a challenge not only for the energy industry but for other sectors alike. It will require major overhauls of the energy and transport sectors as well as a huge push to increase the use of electric vehicles and retrofit buildings to make them energy efficient.

Especially hard to decarbonize industries such as chemicals, steel and cement need solutions that enable a swift phaseout of fossil fuel to significantly reduce their carbon footprints. While the range of renewable energy sources already available today forms the foundation to achieve our climate goals, it will be imperative to go one step further and deploy negative emissions technologies at scale to unlock a real green future across all industries. 

Over 20 leading companies, investors and trade associations came together last week to announce the Coalition for Negative Emissions (CNE), an initiative that seeks to promote and educate on the need for such groundbreaking technologies. The newly formed coalition provides policymakers, NGOs, and other key stakeholders with a much-needed platform to advance global action to rapidly deploy negative emissions solutions. Research done by CNE – conducted with the knowledge and analytical support from McKinsey & Company – found that without action to deliver 1 Gigaton (Gt) of negative emissions globally by 2025, keeping global warming within the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C will not be achieved.

Making the transition to negative emission technologies might appear, at the moment, expensive and challenging. In the long term, however, it will be ultimately cheaper to commence the process of developing, researching, and implementing these solutions today than delaying what will ultimately unlock a cross-sector greener future. As with all new technologies, it takes dedication, support, and investments but especially time to deploy them at scale. Consequently, if we are serious about achieving our climate goals in time, we must kickstart this process imminently and with force – a task that both empowers and concerns companies, policymakers, and scientists alike. 

Negative emissions solutions, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture and storage (DACS), and natural climate solutions (NCS) such as afforestation, are promising and can each provide at least 1Gt of sustainable negative emissions. In addition to achieving global climate targets, deploying these solutions at scale could create up to 10 million new jobs worldwide. The sooner development of the aforementioned technologies and solutions begin the sooner deployment and implementation at scale can commence. 

Looking ahead, negative emissions will be crucial to our hopes of achieving net-zero emissions – and the IPCC carbon accounting guidelines confirm that sustainable biofuels supplied alongside carbon capture and storage lead to negative emissions. As far as the energy industry is concerned, there are already promising projects underway that demonstrate the value of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage in delivering negative emissions at scale.

Policymakers, including EU Climate Chief Frans Timmermans, acknowledge that the world cannot meet its ambitious climate goals without wood energy. In fact, last month, ministers from 10 European countries wrote to Timmermans to stress the “crucial role” bioenergy fuels play in helping member states meet the EU’s climate goals.

The use of sustainably sourced wood bioenergy as a climate change mitigation measure has been, and continues to be, supported by some of the most respected scientific institutions and government bodies around the world, such as the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), International Energy Agency, UK Committee on Climate Change, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, amongst many others. Evidence shows that sustainably sourced wood pellets enable global utilities to reduce their carbon emissions by more than 85% on a lifecycle basis compared to coal and more than 70% compared to natural gas. Combined with carbon capture and storage, the climate benefits of renewable energy sources, such as bioenergy, will be taken to a whole new level.   

As the world begins to realize the true potential of sustainably sourced biomass, industries with carbon-intense production processes, such as aviation, plastics, cement, and steel, are starting to look to utilize this sustainable fuel to help accelerate their decarbonization. To permanently unlock a greener future for all, the use of negative emissions technologies will be pivotal – it is the key to achieving net-zero worldwide. As the EU is about to discuss its ambitious “Fit for 55” legislative package, European policymakers and legislators have a unique opportunity to incentivise innovation. Enviva supports the EU’s new and more ambitious climate targets. A credible and predictable policy framework is vital for planning and the investor confidence needed to unlock the additional investments required. Adjusting EU rules to align them with the EU’s new climate targets should therefore be done with a scalpel, rather than a hammer. Building on the stringent RED II sustainability standards that were recently agreed, the EU can promote the development of the sustainable biomass sector – which will play a pivotal role in meeting climate targets.

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