Comment: Climate solution requires removing carbon from air

Along with limiting emissions, work must progress on solutions that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

By Paul Gambill / For The Herald

Washington state has shown resilience and ingenuity as we battle covid-19. As this global pandemic begins to wane, we must now translate the power of human innovation into our handling of another ongoing challenge: climate change.

At my Seattle-based carbon removal marketplace, Nori, we say, when it comes to battling excess carbon that is threatening our way of life, that we need to “emit less and remove the rest.” Using our agricultural resources wisely and standing up some technological solutions, we can stabilize our climate, grow our economy and create new jobs and sustainable businesses, if we invest in climate solutions like carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

At Nori, we are creating a marketplace for carbon removal. The demand is there. Businesses want to do their part to get to net-zero carbon emissions. Washington companies including Amazon and Microsoft have made strong commitments to do this. We now need to stand up robust carbon dioxide removal solutions to meet this demand.

The numbers don’t lie. Science shows that any serious plan will require massive removal of excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Every scenario modeled by the National Academies of Science and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would require robust carbon removal alongside ambitious emissions reduction efforts to reach our climate goals. We have missed every other major window to circumvent a major climate crisis, but this is a window we can and must hit.

Luckily, our state is already set up to play a pivotal role in carbon removal. Not only does Washington have massive storage capacity deep underground for direct air capture, it also has vast amounts of trees and croplands for natural carbon sequestration. Washington could be a national leader in carbon removal. If we invest in carbon removal that can remove millions of tonnes of excess carbon, we can also open up tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for Washingtonians in a growing removal and carbon storage sector.

Companies are making pledges and showing a willingness to take more ambitious actions than they have in the past. We need all those who can to lower their emissions as rapidly as possible. Complete decarbonization is impossible, and so we also need to provide them the option of pulling out excess carbon that is already in our atmosphere.

Nori gives companies a way to take action by paying others to verifiably remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Here’s how it works: Suppliers who remove carbon from the atmosphere relative to an initial baseline go through a scientifically peer-reviewed verification process. Then, they sell certificates for that carbon removal to companies and individuals who want to reduce their carbon footprint. By sending a price signal to suppliers, our marketplace is creating the financial incentives for large-scale carbon removal. Combined with steep emission reductions, these actions can help restore our atmospheric carbon balance back to pre-Industrial Era levels, and hit the narrow path scientists say we need to meet to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius in global warming.

A massive challenge requires a massive response. To have the carbon removal solutions available that the world needs and companies are willing to support, we need the government to make it as easy as possible for private actors to scale these up. With investments from the government, we can bring down the costs of removal and nature-based solutions such as regenerative agriculture. Solar and wind energy were once in a similar nascent stage of development, and just like these renewables, carbon removal (powered by growth in the nuclear energy industry) can be effectively scaled up. Our government needs to double down on making it possible to scale these solutions, so we do not miss yet another window to preserve our way of life into the future.

In Washington, we have a ripe opportunity to revitalize our economies while paving the path forward in climate action. By pushing policies that incentivize and scale up carbon removal, we can benefit workers and protect our planet. Using all of the tools in our toolbox will be necessary to slow warming, and Washington’s vast geological reservoirs and agriculture position our state to be a leader in carbon removal and storage.

Right away, we need to invest in this future, offering Washington climate stability and economic opportunity.

Paul Gambill is chief executive and co-founder of Nori, a Seattle-based carbon removal market.

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