By Denise Simmons, BSc, MSc
Published: June 5, 2021 • World Environment Day 2021
Additional research [should] be focused … on the development of an enabling framework to encourage the large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal.
Denise Simmons ✉️, Department of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Guyana.
This essay is part of a series by the University of Guyana, Department of Environmental Studies on the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. It was first published in the Guyana Chronicle on World Environment Day (June 5, 2021).
Global warming is occurring and is projected to continue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 oC asserted that human activities have caused an increase of approximately 1.0°C in the global average surface temperature between the pre-industrial period, i.e., 1850 to 1900, and 2017 (see Figure 1). The IPCC further reports that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 oC between 2030 and 2052 if warming continues at the current rate (IPCC, 2018). The Report also examines the potential impacts and risks associated with global warming of 1.5 oC. With respect to biodiversity and ecosystems, these include:
- loss of the geographic range of some terrestrial species; increased forest fires and spread of invasive species;
- degradation of high-latitude tundra and boreal forest;
- shift in the ranges of many marine species to higher latitudes,
- increased damage to marine ecosystems; and
- loss of coastal resources and reduced productivity of fisheries and aquaculture (IPCC, 2018, pp. 7-8). Accompanying these projected impacts would be the loss of ecosystem services to humans.
Figure 1: Global average surface temperature over the period of instrumental observations (Source: Allen et al., 2018, p. 57).
The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to commit to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 oC above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels”(United Nations, 2015, p. 3). The Special Report examined different pathways to meet the Paris Agreement’s ambitious targets; notably, all of the pathways necessitate the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) to achieve the net emissions reductions required to attain the targets. But, what is CDR? The IPCC (2018) defines this as:
Anthropogenic activities removing CO2 from the atmosphere and durably storing it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. It includes existing and potential anthropogenic enhancement of biological or geochemical sinks and direct air capture and storage, but excludes natural CO2 uptake not directly caused by human activities (p. 24).
There are several existing and potential CDR measures, including: afforestation/reforestation, which is the planting or restoring of forests to absorb carbon dioxide; soil carbon sequestration, such as the use of no-till agriculture and crop rotation to increase the amount of carbon stored in soils; bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which involves the growth or collection of biomass, processing it into biofuels or energy, capturing the carbon dioxide from the process and storing in geological reservoirs or long-lasting products; enhanced mineralisation which is the spreading of crushed rock over land to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), which is the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by chemical means and storing it in geological reservoirs or long-lasting products (American University, 2021; Cho, 2018; IPCC, 2018; Morrow et al, 2018).
Oceans can also serve as a means of CDR: ocean alkalinisation is the spreading of alkaline substances, such as lime, over the oceans which then absorb carbon dioxide; ocean fertilisation, which is the addition of nutrients, such as iron, over the ocean thereby promoting the growth of algae which would absorb carbon dioxide; and coastal blue carbon, which is the protection and restoration of coastal wetlands, including mangroves, seagrass and salt marshes – these all increase the absorption of carbon dioxide since these coastal wetlands hold large amounts of carbon in their biomass and sediments (American University, 2021; Cho, 2018; IPCC, 2018; Morrow et al., 2018).
In the context of Guyana, the country has demonstrated its commitment to addressing climate change through embarking and proposing to implement a number of these CDR measures, such as mangrove restoration (see Figure 2) and reforestation of mined areas; as such, the co-benefit of restoration of ecosystems is being realised. This is notwithstanding the fact that Guyana is a net carbon sink country. As Guyana’s, as well as other countries’ commitments to the achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement become increasing ambitious, strong consideration of other and more expensive and innovative CDR measures may become a distinct possibility.
Figure 2: Mangrove restoration along the coast of Guyana in 2016. (Source: NAREI)
Have you recognised the mutual benefit? Since forests, oceans, wetlands and soils are sinks and stores of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, they play an essential role in CDR. The application of CDR measures involves the restoration of (these) ecosystems, while simultaneously mitigating climate change and contributing to the achievement of the targets of the Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2019). Carbon dioxide removal is a critical process in ecosystem restoration, the theme under which we celebrate World Environment Day 2021. It will be even more important during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 that additional research be focused on the measures for the development of an enabling framework to encourage the large-scale deployment of CDR.
- Allen, M.R., Dube, O,P., Solecki, W., Aragón-Durand, F., Cramer, W., Humphreys, S., Kainuma, M. Kala, J., Mahowald, N. Mulugetta, Y., Perez, R., Wairiu, M., and Zickfeld, Z. (2018). Framing and Context. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., Zhai, P., Pörtner, H.-O., Roberts, D., Skea, J., Shukla, P.R., Pirani, A., Moufouma-Okia, W., Péan, C., Pidcock, R., Connors, S., Matthews, J.B.R., Chen, Y., Zhou, X., Gomis, M.I., Lonnoy, E., Maycock, T., Tignor, M and Waterfield, T. (eds.)]. IPCC. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/SR15_Chapter1_Low_Res.pdf
- American University. (2021). What is Carbon Removal? https://www.american.edu/sis/centers/carbon-removal/what-it-is.cfm
- Cho, R. (2018). Climate: Can Removing Carbon From the Atmosphere Save Us From Climate Catastrophe? Columbia Climate School. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2018/11/27/carbon-dioxide-removal-climate-change/
- IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. IPCC. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/SR15_SPM_version_report_LR.pdf
- Morrow, D.R., Buck, H. J., Burns, W. C. G., Nicholson, S. & Turkaly, C. (2018). Why Talk about Carbon Removal? Washington, DC: Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, American University. https://doi.org/10.17606/M6H66H
- United Nations. (2015). Paris Agreement. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf
- United Nations. (2019). Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 1 March 2019: United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030). https://undocs.org/A/RES/73/284
This essay is part of a University of Guyana series in observance of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.