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Carbon Dioxide Removal

Complementing emission reduction to reach net zero by 2050

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the biosphere (plants, soils), geosphere (rocks, underground), the ocean or in products. CDR takes many forms, from planting trees and restoring seagrass meadows to using engineered means to scrub CO2 directly from the air and oceans.

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains the most urgent priority, CDR is an additional, complementary action that we must take. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states “the deployment of CDR to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions is unavoidable if net zero greenhouse gases emissions are to be achieved”. We need CDR and emission reductions.

It’s important to highlight that Carbon Removal is different to Carbon Capture. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) are processes whereby CO2 is captured from a point source such as from a flue stack connected to a coal power plant and stored or used to create products. In CDR the CO2 is captured from the atmosphere. As such carbon capture is a type of emissions reduction because they reduce emissions that would have been emitted rather than removing emissions that have already been emitted.



Achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals to pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” means reducing our emissions to as close to zero as possible and compensating all residual emissions with an equal amount of carbon removal.

It also requires us to cap the total amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. We can think of this as our carbon budget. In 2020, the IPCC estimated a remaining carbon budget of 500 billion tonnes, giving us a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. To put this into perspective, in 2022 we added 37 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Even our most ambitious reduction targets see us overshooting this budget. Removals can be used to make up for this overshoot. If used in tandem with rapid carbon emission reductions, CDR provides a means to keep 1.5°C alive.

Getting to scale


At COP27 the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, Nigel Topping, launched the CDR 2030 Breakthrough: “By 2030, carbon dioxide removals are responsibly scaled to remove 3.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.”

This is a fraction of the carbon reduction needed by 2030 but scaling up carbon dioxide removal to the necessary levels will require a significant investment in research, development, and deployment of these solutions.

Some methods of CDR, such as reforestation and afforestation, can be implemented relatively quickly and at a lower cost. Other methods, such as direct air carbon capture and storage, are still in the early stages of development and will require investment and research to become cost-effective at scale. To achieve the necessary levels of carbon removal, we need to deploy a diverse portfolio of different CDR solutions. These can be big and small across all regions, from peatland restoration to large-scale regenerative agriculture.

Getting CDR right


Scaling up CDR is crucial to combating climate change. It must be done responsibly, with societal values and interests influencing which CDR approaches to incentivise, how they should be incentivised, and governed. Above all, it must be adopted alongside emission reduction activity.

It's important to consider the environmental and social impacts of different CDR methods, as well as the potential unintended consequences. For example, reforestation can have positive impacts on biodiversity but can displace local communities.

Getting the most from CDR


How can organisations get the most from CDR? Here are our top four recommendations:

Engage with the topic and ensure stakeholders understand CDR, its limitations, and connection to broader decarbonisation

Agree on how much carbon dioxide the organisation needs to remove based on its past, present, and future emissions, in line with net zero and beyond value chain mitigation. Explicit science-based targets towards reductions and removals can also be set

Consider a variety of removals techniques, from reforestation to direct air capture, and then integrate removals solutions into decarbonisation approaches

Clearly disclose the approach to CDR and engage in advocacy to promote better understanding of the space.

How Deloitte can help


We are helping companies to engage responsibly with carbon removals as part of their wider decarbonisation efforts across the lifecycle of CDR.

From creating the removal in the first place, to aligning with best practice or integrating CDR into corporate strategy, we can support you on your journey.

To find out more please contact a member of our team.

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