The latest IPCC report confirms CDR will be necessary to achieve our climate goals 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report this week. The Synthesis Report (SYR) of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) integrates key findings based on three Working Groups and three Special Reports. It confirmed what we all know: that human activities, through greenhouse gas emissions, have caused global warming and these emissions are continuing to rise. 

Where are these emissions coming from? Mainly from the wealthiest households in the wealthiest countries.

According to the report, “The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34-45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13-15%.” The least developed countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) also have much lower per capita emissions. Despite this, many of the communities facing the most extreme climate-related events are concentrated in Africa, Asia, Central, and South America, LDCs, SIDS, the Arctic, and among Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers, and low-income households. 

What does the report say about climate restoration? Well…nothing directly.

Predictably, the report focuses on achieving net zero emissions, rather than the deeply net negative emissions that would be necessary to restore the climate. Reaching zero total emissions is highly improbable, so the report states that reaching net zero GHG emissions will involve deeply reducing emissions of CO2, methane, and other GHGs in addition to employing negative emission solutions. This means that CDR will be necessary. In fact, most pathways modeled by the IPCC involve achieving net negative CO2 emissions at least briefly through CDR and reduced CO2 emissions to reduce overshooting 1.5°C warming.

Additionally, hard-to-abate residual GHG emissions (e.g., from agriculture, aviation, shipping, and other industrial processes) would need to be counterbalanced by CDR to achieve net zero GHG emissions. 

Biological CDR methods (e.g., reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, coastal blue carbon) can enhance biodiversity, ecosystem functions, employment, and local livelihoods. However, methods such as afforestation and the production of biomass crops can have adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts, particularly if implemented on large scales and where there is insecure land tenure.  

Can CDR replace emissions reductions? Of course not!

We’ve said it before and the IPCC has said it again: CDR must not and cannot replace emissions reductions, but should rather act as a counterpart. The report emphasizes that the less we decarbonize, the more we will need to rely on the deployment of CDR, creating greater feasibility and sustainability concerns. Warming that exceeds 1.5°C would “require additional deployment of carbon dioxide removal” when compared with pathways without overshoot. However, overshoot will also result in irreversible adverse impacts on ecosystems and communities. Reducing emissions would limit peak warming levels, reducing the need for greater levels of CDR. This would, in turn, reduce feasibility and sustainability concerns.  

Equity and justice should take center stage in our climate action.

The report emphasizes the importance of prioritizing equity, climate justice, social justice, inclusion, and just transition processes. Action that prioritizes equity and inclusion leads to more sustainable outcomes while supporting transformative change. These findings underscore the need to continue work for climate restoration with an emphasis on equity and justice. 

“Policy support is influenced by actors in civil society, including businesses, youth, women, labour, media, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities” 

As a civil society organization working to create the ecosystem needed to equitably deploy CDR at scale through public engagement, particularly with youth and local communities, F4CR and our partners are well-positioned to ensure meaningful climate action. Furthermore, effective multilevel governance is “enabled by inclusive decision processes that prioritize equity and justice,” validating our continued commitment to putting equity and justice at the forefront of our work.