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Prime minister jens stoltenberg opening the technology centre at mongstad 2012. negative emissions technology is essential to stay below two degrees, but the the technology is still in its infancy. photo: tcmda.com

Prime minister jens stoltenberg opening the technology centre at mongstad 2012. negative emissions technology is essential to stay below two degrees, but the the technology is still in its infancy. photo: tcmda.com

Reliance on negative emissions locks in humankind’s carbon addiction

Climate news - News and opinions about climate science

Published 14.10.2016

Governments are unknowingly relying on the deliberate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to meet the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement. If these unproven technologies fail, then future generations will bear the consequences of higher temperature increases.


A Perspective, which is published today in the journal Science, highlights the risks that society faces by relying on an unproven technology.

The deliberate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is often called ‘negative emissions’. It starts being deployed in emissions scenarios within the next decade, and reaches such high levels that by the end of the century society is removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it puts in.

There are no proven technologies that can perform carbon dioxide removal at such large scale today.

Yet, nearly all scenarios assessed by the IPCC with a likely chance of not exceeding 2°C assume that the large scale roll out of negative emission technologies is technically and economically viable. It is not well understood by decision makers, that the climate models informing their decisions are dependent on such a massive deployment of speculative and unproven technologies.

Carbon dioxide removal is an extremely attractive technology for politicians and fossil fuel companies, as it allows them to shift the mitigation burden to future generations

Glen Peters

“Without negative emissions in the future, we need even deeper and more rapid mitigation now”, said Dr Glen Peters, a Senior Researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) and co-author of the paper.

“To keep the temperature increase below the ambitious 1.5°C, without any form of carbon dioxide removal, the global economy would need to completely decarbonize in about a decade”, said Dr Peters.

Even with the large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies, society still needs deep and rapid mitigation to start now to keep the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, or indeed 2°C.

...reliance on highly speculative negative emission technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a moral hazardkevin anderson 

Shifting the burden

With the use of negative emissions, less short term mitigation is required as it can be compensated by carbon dioxide removal in the latter half of the century. Carbon dioxide removal allows society to mitigate less now, compensated by more effort later.

“Carbon dioxide removal is an extremely attractive technology for politicians and fossil fuel companies, as it allows them to shift the mitigation burden to future generations”, said Dr Peters.

“For society, reliance on highly speculative negative emission technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a moral hazard”, said Professor Kevin Anderson from Manchester and Uppsala Universities and co-author of the study.

“Future generations, particularly those living in poor and climatically vulnerable communities, face all the risks if these unproven technologies fail to deliver as promised”, said Professor Anderson.


Media Contact: Glen Peters, glen.peters@cicero.oslo.no, @Peters_Glen, +47 9289 1638

More information, including a copy of the paper, can be found online at the Science press package.