• Atmospheric CO2 /Parts per Million /Annual Averages /Data Source: noaa.gov

  • 1980338.91ppm

  • 1981340.11ppm

  • 1982340.86ppm

  • 1983342.53ppm

  • 1984344.07ppm

  • 1985345.54ppm

  • 1986346.97ppm

  • 1987348.68ppm

  • 1988351.16ppm

  • 1989352.78ppm

  • 1990354.05ppm

  • 1991355.39ppm

  • 1992356.1ppm

  • 1993356.83ppm

  • 1994358.33ppm

  • 1995360.18ppm

  • 1996361.93ppm

  • 1997363.04ppm

  • 1998365.7ppm

  • 1999367.8ppm

  • 2000368.97ppm

  • 2001370.57ppm

  • 2002372.59ppm

  • 2003375.14ppm

  • 2004376.96ppm

  • 2005378.97ppm

  • 2006381.13ppm

  • 2007382.9ppm

  • 2008385.01ppm

  • 2009386.5ppm

  • 2010388.76ppm

  • 2011390.63ppm

  • 2012392.65ppm

  • 2013395.39ppm

  • 2014397.34ppm

  • 2015399.65ppm

  • 2016403.09ppm

  • 2017405.22ppm

  • 2018407.62ppm

  • 2019410.07ppm

  • 2020412.44ppm

  • 2021414.72ppm

  • 2022418.56ppm

  • 2023421.08ppm

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier
News & Views

Carbon dioxide removals: On your marks, get set, emit?

In the aftermath of the COP28, experts re-examine the role of carbon removal technologies to help us reach carbon neutrality

Stricter rules around carbon-capture technologies can boost our chances to reach carbon neutrality, experts told Net Zero Investor, providing that those do not distract us from doubling down on delivering deep emission reductions.

Planting massive new forests, ploughing charcoal into fields, spreading crushed rocks over land or alkaline over the ocean … Anything goes when it comes to fixing humanity’s excesses, but does this mean we can continue to exceed our carbon budgets?

Some climate specialists worry that the popular appeal of far-off technologies like carbon removals will prevent us from curtailing our current production and consumption patterns, particularly when the deployment of such techniques is being put in doubt.

Dr. Lucrezia Nava, assistant professor in management at New York’s Baruch College and a partner in EU Horizon-funded NEGEM research project, which assesses the potential of carbon dioxide removal technologies, stressed that even if those were critical to address climate change impacts and reach net zero, “their deployment should be approached with caution.”

“It’s imperative to prioritise technologies based on their permanence, scalability, and overall impact on both the environment and society, especially in vulnerable regions,” she explained.

And the global South has already proven her point more than once.

Sucking carbon at all costs

A recent report by Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) – among other organisations, said that carbon offsetting, defined as a way to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere, had undermined climate action.

Firstly, the authors claim that carbon offset projects have led to human and Indigenous rights violations, citing as an example oil giant TotalEnergies’ tree-planting scheme, which has barred farmers in the Republic of Congo from accessing their fields.

According to the French group, the planting of 40,000 hectares of non-native acacia trees will enable it to sequester 10 million tons of carbon dioxide in 20 years. The generated carbon credits will be certified by the world’s leading carbon standard Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), or Verra, whose majority of rainforest offset credits were last January proven to be largely worthless.

An investigation by SourceMaterial and Greenpeace’s Unearthed revealed that the Congolese government had passed the transfer of the land to “the private domain of the state” for use by TotalEnergies before consultations with local people had ended.

Other communities around the world have even been sucked into legal battles to reclaim their rights and territories.

Last year, the Indigenous Kichwa tribe lost its lawsuit to regain access to ancestral rainforests in the area of Cordillera Azul National Park, in the Peruvian Amazon, in which oil majors Shell and TotalEnergies have spent more than $80 billion buying credits.

“Technologies like afforestation/reforestation, peatland restoration, and soil carbon sequestration, while valuable for biodiversity and restoration, have high risks of reversal and therefore cannot be equated with permanent carbon emissions,” Nava explained.

“Associating these practices with offsetting payments could inadvertently undermine biodiversity and essential social goals such as food security while not being effective at offsetting fossil fuel emissions which are permanently released in the atmosphere.”

UK-based climate website Carbon Brief showed that of the reports it had examined in the last five years, 72% had found evidence of carbon offset projects causing harm to Indigenous and local communities; and 43% overstating their ability to cut emissions.

“The new frontiers for carbon offsetting are based on a race to convert agricultural soils and coastal and marine areas into carbon ‘removals’,” the GJEP report reads, pointing that none of these techniques have been proven to permanently store carbon.


It’s imperative to prioritise technologies based on their permanence, scalability, and overall impact on both the environment and society.

Dr. Lucrezia Nava, assistant professor in management, Baruch College

On that front, policy lead on carbon removals at independent watchdog Carbon Market Watch Wijnand Stoefs agreed. “These are temporary removals that can last a long time, but only if done in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.”

In November, an investigation revealed that three carbon offsetting projects which had sold credits to Air France, Bayer, Samsung and other companies to support forest preservation in Portel, Brazil, had no climate benefits – called “phantom credits.”

For Nava, it is important to distinguish the carbon removals that offer permanence and those that do not. If technologies like direct air carbon capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage are capable of storing carbon “with the intent of permanence,” they also lead to “significant demands for minerals, land and water, potential risks to biodiversity, and adverse social impacts.”

“These factors make it evident that while these technologies are indispensable for mitigating emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, their deployment needs to be regulated carefully and distinct from emission reduction goals,” the CSR specialist noted.

Securing regulation, scalability

But as the popular appeal of carbon credits grows, is it too late to fix the aforementioned issues?

“The risks mentioned are very real but can be solved,” Stoefs wrote in an email to Net Zero Investor, as if some carbon offsetting projects provide “a smokescreen for greenwashing emissions,” many initiatives are currently running to increase integrity on voluntary carbon markets.

“Not just environmental integrity, but also social integrity,” the policy expert added. In his view, “it’s not too late to change how these projects work”: the problematic ones should be rethought, and those beneficial to the climate and local communities supported.

“Though again, the credits generated should not be used for offsetting,” Stoefs said. For Carbon Market Watch, contribution claims measuring the financial contribution of a company to a country and “practice-based credits,” which ensure that companies pay for practices rather than non-permanent or overestimated results, constitute viable alternatives for financing climate action.


We need to assume that technical or engineered removals fail and redouble our efforts on emission reductions rather than allow removals to distract from that.

Wijnand Stoefs, policy lead on carbon removals, Carbon Market Watch

Nava, on the other side, believes that “only permanent removals can and should be considered for carbon credits” by corporations. “Restoration projects focus on biodiversity goals and not be linked to carbon credits nor measurement,” she commented.

A spokesperson for S&P Global Ratings however flagged that “not all emission mitigation strategies are created equal”: the US firm assesses carbon credits in its second-party opinions “as a comparatively weaker form of emission mitigations.”

“There is also a broad range of carbon credits that we assess from weakest to strong depending on their characteristics,” S&P noted.

In December, a group of senior scientists led by Professor Ed Mitchard, the co-founder of nature data provider Space Intelligence, urged the retraction or heavy revision of a paper claiming that 94% of REDD+ projects, which as part of the Paris Climate Agreement aim at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, were worthless.

Citing errors, Mitchard said that the analysis “both understates the impact of the projects in the sample and unfairly condemned all REDD projects.” He fears that it could cut off finance for protecting vulnerable forests when funding needs to grow rapidly.

The solution? A stronger regulation around carbon removal technologies and related carbon credits.

“Beyond just increasing investments, (…) regulatory frameworks must be established to ensure that these technologies are used primarily to compensate for emissions that are genuinely impossible to abate,” Nava pointed out. “This involves a careful balance between technological deployment and the safeguarding of other planetary boundaries and social objectives.”

For Stoefs, a key concern is mitigation deterrence – defined as the idea that the prospect of future carbon removals may act as an excuse for avoiding emission reductions today or delay efforts in that direction – that many regulatory frameworks have built in. “Emission reductions are the urgent priority, and removals should not lead us to fall further behind on that priority,” he added.

When it comes to deploying carbon removals, the carbon specialist stressed that the scale had to be kept as low as possible.

“We need to assume that technical or engineered removals fail and redouble our efforts on emission reductions rather than allow removals to distract from that,” he emphasised, especially as they can’t come at a significant cost to other environmental goals.

Data from NEGEM suggest that annual carbon removals will reach about 5.5 gigatons in 2040 and 10 gigatons in 2050, at best.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is very clear,” Stoefs concluded. “We will need carbon removals in the future – though as a complement to emission reductions – on top, rather than instead of.”

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