Taking CO2 Out Of The Air Has Gone From Moral Hazard To Moral Imperative

Fred van Beuningen

Dec 24, 2020

About a year ago, I wrote in my blog that sucking CO2 out of the air had gone from moral hazard to moral imperative but that CO2 removal and usage technology could at best fill gaps in an overall effort to decarbonize the economy. A more holistic view was needed, to include land use. I also wrote that nature is about balance and that rebalancing nature’s cycles (carbon, hydro and thermal) requires a massive restoration of forest and degraded land and the planting of trees.

Signing on to planting a trillion trees became the “entry fee” for the World Economic Forum last week. Although in itself a good initiative and something even US President Trump could agree to, it should not become an excuse for inaction on other fronts (maybe the way President Trump as a great strategist and deal maker looks at this trade-off).

First, we need a lot of trees. A much-debated Science paper last year estimated the amount of land around the world suitable for continuous tree cover and unused by humans to be about 900 million hectares. Planting a trillion trees around the globe, assuming a relatively dense 2,000 trees per hectare, would require about 500 million hectares of land. It so happens to be, however, as I argued in my blog a year ago, that much of the available space is in countries with little to no political will.

It’s especially strange to see so many parties embracing tree planting the same year we witnessed catastrophic fires in Australia and widespread deforestation in Brazil. When trees and plants die, whether from fires or logging or simply falling down, most of the carbon trapped in their trunks, branches, and leaves simply returns to the atmosphere. Thus, shifts of CO2 from atmosphere to biosphere are not permanently sequestering emissions: carbon sinks can become carbon sources very quickly.

Planting trees still a good idea but it should not distract us from deploying and investing into key drivers for decoupling GHG emissions from economic growth, like renewable energy and circular use of materials, including CO2, bio-, and other waste-based as alternatives to fossil-based energy carriers and chemicals.

Decarbonizing industry, which accounts for almost 40% of global CO2 emissions, is one of the largest leverage points. DeltaLinqs, InnovationQuarter, Smart Port and Clean Tech Delta have initiated a regional carbon capture and usage program building out a knowledge base, strategy, and coalition to work on concrete projects to turn our region into an innovation hot-spot for this innovation space that is bound to be an important part of the solution to decarbonize the global economy. Stay tuned…

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