Down with the CO2 footprint. But how?

A commentary by Lucas van Doorn

After this super-hot summer at the latest, it is clear to every company that it must minimize its CO2 emissions quickly. Lucas van Doorn, Climate Action Specialist at Strichpunkt partner Planetly by OneTrust, outlines the two main options for offsetting emissions that cannot be avoided in the short-term.

Over the past decades, more than 200 different types of projects have been approved for carbon offset markets. Broadly speaking, these can be grouped into two categories:

Carbon avoidance projects contribute to climate action by preventing greenhouse gas emissions that would have been released into the atmosphere otherwise. For instance, this could be done by deployment of efficient cook stoves to rural households in underdeveloped countries, building a solar farm in regions where renewable energy is not yet economical, or by protecting rainforests from deforestation and degradation.

Carbon removal projects, as the name implies, directly extract carbon from the atmosphere. This can be further broken down into two buckets:

  • Nature-based removals sequester carbon as biomass grows → e.g. reforestation, regenerative agriculture, or mangrove restoration.
  • Technology-based removals pull carbon out of the air with new technologies that enhance natural removals or manually sequester and store carbon→ e.g. direct air capture and storage, biochar, or ocean alkalinization.

Which type of project should my company support?

The short answer: We need to scale both avoidance and removals! In the near-term, financing projects that avoid emissions from entering the atmosphere must continue at full speed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Such projects accelerate global abatement, support climate justice, and secure our existing carbon sinks.

In the next decades, however, carbon removal will become increasingly vital as we get closer to the net-zero targets. Once we reach net-zero, all residual emissions must be neutralized with carbon removals.

Carbon removal projects are hard to find

Consequently, interest in removal projects has skyrocketed during the past year. However, the voluntary carbon market currently only 7% nature-based removal credits, as opposed to 93% avoidance credits.

Various newer project types that remove carbon from the atmosphere are still very immature, and it remains uncertain whether we will be able to safely scale these to make removals a viable option for addressing climate change. Also, these projects tend to be very costly — even for natural carbon removal projects that do not involve new technology.

How can I support adoption of carbon removals as of today?

Ramping up investment towards novel removals techniques is key to bring down the cost curve as soon as possible. Currently, most of these future-oriented removal technologies are not yet certified by benchmark standards. As such, these projects are not eligible for offsetting purposes as of today. Thus, in addition to supporting carbon avoidance projects to offset your emissions, we encourage clients to invest in technology-based removal projects, to support the future growth of this market. An example of a project that can be supported for additional climate action is Charm Industrial. This project converts waste biomass into bio-oil and injects it into deep underground wells, where the bio-oil sinks and solidifies in place for permanent storage.

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Harald Willenbrock

Head of Concept & Content