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According to a recent major United Nations report, if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we need to reduce global CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050. This means eliminating fossil fuel use fast — but to cushion that transition and offset the areas in which there is currently no replacement for combustibles, we need to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Planting trees and rewilding are a large part of this solution, but we are highly likely to need further technological assistance if we are to prevent climate breakdown.
So when recent news emerged that Canadian company Carbon Engineering has harnessed some well-known chemistry to capture CO2 from the atmosphere at a cost of less than $100 a tonne, many media sources hailed the milestone as a magic bullet. Unfortunately, the big picture isn’t as simple. Truly tipping the balance from carbon source to carbon sink is a delicate business, and our view is that the energy costs involved and likely downstream uses of captured CO2 mean that Carbon Engineering’s “bullet” is anything but magic.