What is climate restoration? 

Climate restoration means restoring a climate that humans have actually survived over the long term – and doing it by 2050, while Earth’s systems are still working well enough.  

The historically safe climate is the pre-industrial climate, which we had for thousands of years until about 100 years ago. The pre-industrial climate allowed us to develop agriculture and civilizations. In these relatively stable conditions, CO2 in the air remained about 280 parts per million (ppm).


Where are we now? 

Today we’re in uncharted territory. Over the last couple of centuries, we’ve burned so much fossil fuel that there’s a trillion tons of excess, or “legacy” CO2 already in the air. 

There’s 50% more CO2 in the atmosphere now than 200 years ago. Put in terms of parts per million–we’re over 420 ppm now, from 280 in pre-industrial times.  

For some perspective: The last time CO2 levels were this high was between 14 and 16 million years ago, way before humans existed. Hominids and chimps hadn’t even evolved from gorillas. 

Won’t reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 keep us safe?

In the 2015 Paris Accords, the world agreed to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050. Net zero means not adding any more greenhouse gases pollution to the atmosphere. 

Net zero is a vital goal. It’s also confusing.

A lot of people think that achieving net-zero will bring back a safe climate, but that’s not the case.  Here’s why: Each year we add about 36 billion tons (or gigatons, or Gt) of heat-trapping CO2, mostly by burning oil, gas, and coal  That’s a lot.  Yet this 36 billion tons is only 3.6% of what’s already in the air.

If we stopped all emissions tomorrow, we’d still have that trillion tons of legacy CO2 in the atmosphere.  And that’s what’s disturbing the climate the most. 


Then why do we hear so much about net zero? 

 In 1990, the UN and the world agreed to “stabilize” greenhouse gases (GHG). Today we call that “net-zero emissions.” That means 1) transitioning to clean energy—mostly solar, wind, and batteries—as far as we can, and 2) then balancing remaining fossil-fuel emissions by removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric CO2 (hence the “net” in net zero.)  

In 1990, CO2 levels were still arguably safe for humanity, so if we had stabilized them then, we’d likely be fine now.  

However, as you know, we didn’t. We just kept burning more and more fossil fuels, emitting more and more greenhouse gases. Now, three decades later, even if we magically achieved net-zero tomorrow… we’d still be stuck with the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere over the last 200 years. About a trillion tons of it.  And that legacy CO2 is the main engine behind climate chaos. 

If we reach stabilize emissions (achieve net zero) in 2050 without removing the legacy CO2— CO2 levels will be even higher than now.  

Humans are literally not designed for such conditions. Could future generations, let alone civilization, survive?  It’s doubtful. 

Yes, we need to reduce the use of oil, gas, and coal— particularly for human and ecosystem health.

But that’s not enough. We also need to get CO2 levels back to what humans have survived long term. And that means pulling a trillion tons of CO2 out of the air—safely, permanently, and affordably.

Several decades of research shows that we could do this by 2050, by accelerating approaches that Nature has used for millions of years. 


How is climate restoration different from other climate action?

Climate restoration is a new paradigm. It’s the leading edge of climate action. 

For 40 years, climate efforts have centered on “mitigation” and “adaptation.”  Mitigation is about reducing the greenhouse gases we send into the atmosphere. This is where we swap out fossil fuels for cleaner energy, like wind or sunlight.  Mitigation is our saying, “We’re going to reduce emissions to prevent the worst effects of the crisis.”

Adaptation means preparing to withstand the crisis.  People are building sturdier houses to handle stronger storms, restoring natural seacoasts, and planting drought-resistant crops. Adapting is our way of saying, “We’ll adjust to what looks inevitable.”

Climate restoration is a new way of thinking. Instead of aiming to avoid the worst possible outcomes, we are determined to achieve the best—a safe climate for future generations.

Reducing emissions and adapting are important. But to actually end the climate crisis, we need to restore a safe climate in which humanity and nature can thrive.


How do we know we can restore the climate?

Humans haven’t pulled a trillion tons of CO2 out of the air before. But Nature has!  Many times, in the lead-up to ice ages. So we know it’s possible.

Nature also removes gigatons of CO2 quickly, after volcanic eruptions. This has been happening for eons.

About 30 years ago, scientists figured out how to replicate and accelerate these and other processes. Climate restoration solutions have been perfected and time-tested by nature; replicating them is low-tech and remarkably low cost.


What’s the biggest challenge to restoring the climate? 

The biggest challenge right now is that we have no national or global agreement that we want to restore the climate for future generations.  Most people don’t realize it’s even a possibility. That’s where the Foundation for Climate Restoration comes in, making climate restoration an idea whose time has come! 


What can you do to help restore the climate?

  • Join the climate restoration movement by becoming a member of the Foundation for Climate Restoration. You’ll connect with others who care about sustaining future generations and learn what you need to know to become an effective climate-restoration advocate.  Click here to join.
  • Share what you learn with your friends, family, colleagues, and organizations.
  • Sign up here for more information!