Brexit may mean Brexit, but Paris means negative emissions.

Today, as the global agreement enters into force, governments and civil society must act in concert to deploy carbon negative technology. If governments worldwide are serious in their Paris Agreement plans “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”, negative emissions technologies are unavoidable.

Government targets (NDCs) submitted for the Paris Agreement set us on course for 2.9°C-3.4°C of warming this century, according to UNEP. Carbon Brief’s analysis of IPCC carbon budgets shows that we will likely burst the 1.5°C carbon budget within 5 years based on current emissions levels. The latest report by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) published earlier this month gives a 3-year time window for raising global ambition in order to stand a reasonable chance of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

These analyses demonstrate that:

  1. Plans to cut emissions globally are far too weak to achieve stated goals

  2. Negative emissions technologies, alongside extremely rapid emissions cuts in the short term are required to stay within 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

There is very little time left.

So what’s to be done?

Most combustion and transport emissions (excluding aviation) can be dealt with through a combination of renewable and clean energy systems, energy efficiency, smart grids, energy storage and electrification. These are playing an increasing role in curbing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to displace fossil fuels as our primary energy source for power and transport. Business models exist for such technologies and projects can move from conception to implementation within a five year timescale.

The remaining roughly 20% of emissions from industrial, agriculture and waste management sectors will need to be tackled over an extended timescale. A large portion of emissions from these sectors emanate from chemical processes, livestock and landfill sites or incinerators and therefore cannot be mitigated through conventional means such as electrification and clean energy. Technologies for reducing industrial process emissions face significant hurdles to commercialisation, are often expensive and, in some cases, would require systemic overhauling of existing supply chains and manufacturing infrastructure. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies have the potential to dramatically reduce emissions in this “difficult 20%” of industrial, agricultural and waste emissions, but require political and financial support in order to be deployed.

Even reaching the less ambitious 2°C target means going beyond carbon neutral and deploying negative emissions technologies (NETs) at scale. At COP22 in Marrakech, negotiators must put forward plans to cut emissions faster, and rapidly deploy negative emissions.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said this week:

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

NETs or Negative emissions refers to processes that draw down more CO2 than they produce. Examples of these technologies include geological carbon capture and storage of CO2, processes for the mineralisation of CO2 and direct air capture of carbon dioxide.