The Envira Amazonia project, run by CarbonCo in Brazil. Read more about the project here
Carbon Removals and the Global Carbon Budget
What’s the problem?
The “global carbon budget” is a way of understanding planet Earth’s finite capacity to absorb CO2. It is the total amount of CO2 humanity can emit between now and 2050 if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees temperature rise. According to Zero Hour, creators of the Climate & Ecology Bill, if we take the global carbon budget and divide it equally between every human alive today it comes to around 50 tonnes of CO2 each. As a typical UK carbon footprint is 15 tonnes most of us would use up our budget in just three years. Perhaps we could reduce our emissions by 10 – 20 % per year, but staying within our carbon budget means a reduction of 90% immediately. How likely are we to achieve this?
For people in the UK and similar wealthy nations, we do have one big advantage – our currencies are very strong. This means that alongside reducing our emissions, we can afford to pay for carbon removals in parts of the world with lower currencies. Carbon removals can be done through forest regeneration projects, rolling out cookstoves to the ¾ of a billion people who cook on open fires, building windmills to replace coal fired power stations to name a few. When we buy carbon removals as individuals, we are effectively crowdfunding carbon removal projects. According to Reuters, the world spent €760 billion on carbon removals and avoidance last year. At the current price of €80 Euros per tonne this would have removed or avoided nearly 10 billion tonnes of CO2 – that’s 10x the emissions of the UK.
Tarred with the same brush
We’ve all heard of “offsetting” which has had mixed press, and carbon removals may have been tarred with the same brush. The idea of offsetting is that if I take a flight today, and buy offsets, it negates the flight. But many objected that this made offsets an excuse to pollute. There may not be enough land to offset all our emissions so we have to reduce our footprints to net zero, and offsets can be seen as a distraction.
There were other problems: In the early years of offsets, some 15-20 years ago we heard of projects that failed. For example eucalyptus forests that were planted with the funds from selling offsets were found to have died a few years later. And the timing was often wrong. Some offset projects sold the carbon removed by trees in the coming decades, to offset a flight taken today. From the planet’s point of view, getting a big dose of CO2 in the current year from that additional flight which will then take 50 years for the trees to absorb is not going to help, given that we have just 10 years to avert climate change.
Another question was around the ethics of wealthy individuals and nations being able to simply pay to pollute. Whilst this is true, it is also true that wealthy individuals and nations can pay to have more of all the earth’s resources. With climate change bearing down on us like an express train maybe it would be good to use money from the wealthy to get both rich and poor out of the way, and buy us time to tackle issues of wealth distribution. And the interesting thing about buying carbon removals is that it sends a significant stream of funds from wealthy to less wealthy nations.
So are carbon removals real?
In a word, yes. Most of today’s carbon removals are 100% genuine, failure-proof, and instantaneous. If you buy carbon removals today, the CO2 would have been absorbed from the atmosphere in the recent past, and never in the future. The easiest way to guarantee their provenance is to ensure they are certified by one of the major global verification bodies, such as Gold Standard or Verra.
Until a few years ago it may have been possible to simply reduce our emissions every year enough to avoid climate change. But we have left it so late that the reductions required are too great for most people in the UK to contemplate. The good news is that there are now completely genuine carbon removals available for us to buy at an affordable price. So it looks like the way forward from today is to:
- Reduce your carbon footprint by around 8% per year
- Purchase carbon removals to mitigate the rest of your carbon footprint.
- Consider purchasing enough removals to cover our life to date or the rest of our lives!
There are some fantastic additional benefits from purchasing genuine carbon reductions: It can channel billions of pounds a year into nature regeneration activities, which increases wildlife and biodiversity around the world. And it upskills people all over the world to work in carbon absorbing activities.
One small hurdle
The real problem with many carbon removals schemes is the inaccuracy of the calculations done to determine the CO2 emissions . When you pay a small amount to offset your flight via an airline company, it may well be insufficient because the calculations they did greatly underestimate the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by that flight. Many carbon footprint calculators also underestimate your carbon footprint. So whilst you are buying genuine carbon removals, you simply aren’t buying enough to cover your activities.
How can Carbon Savvy help?
Because Carbon Savvy set out to provide accurate and user-friendly carbon footprint calculators we are in a good position to help. And to increase the uptake of carbon reductions, we teamed up with a brilliant organisation that is creating a market of standardised, high quality carbon reductions:
They are called JustCarbon, and they have three simple principles behind all their carbon removals projects. They are:
1) From nature-based projects
2) Certified by the world’s top certification bodies (Gold Standard or Verra)
3) ) Always sequestered in the last 5 years, meaning they are verified using the most current science, tools and accounting processes
Furthermore, every JustCarbon Removal token (JCRs) is certified by the CCBA (Climate, Community and Biodiversity Association), which ensures that the projects are beneficial to the community and biodiversity in the areas where they are run
Getting Started with Carbon Removals
We believe that humans and the earth need carbon removals to happen in a big way. Each one of us can play a part by purchasing enough carbon removals to offset our current footprint. Because flights and food have a disproportionate global warming effect (due to emitting nitrous oxide and methane) we recommend doubling your offset purchase for flights and food.
You could simply purchase 15 tonnes – which is the typical UK footprint, or use our Popular Calculator (5 mins) to give you a reasonably accurate footprint. It’s also well worth purchasing carbon reductions to mitigate just part of your emissions. Our minimum purchase is 5 tonnes and that makes a fantastic start.
Buying carbon removals will also generate funds for us to improve our calculators so that we can show your carbon removals purchased graphically against your footprint. We’d like to offer other steps like calculating the carbon footprint of your life to date, or the rest of your life, and enabling you to purchase carbon removals as gifts for your family and friends. Now that we know carbon removals are for real, it’s time to spread the word so that they become widely used, thereby sending massive investment to nature regeneration projects all over the world which will help nature to help us.