Plus: Inconvenient tradeoffs
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APRIL 6, 2022

Good morning from Seattle!

We have a Voices article by a carbon removal expert and a Data Dive simplifying how our power mix needs to change.

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Carbon removal technology key to net zero, world’s scientists agree

Friedmann is the chief scientist at Carbon Direct, a carbon management firm that builds decarbonization strategies for businesses and scales decarbonization technologies with investors. You can reach him at

The latest report from United Nations climate scientists does the arithmetic of a net-zero world.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes—more categorically than ever—that we’ve already overshot key greenhouse gas emissions thresholds, and all climate mitigation scenarios require astonishing actions.

In particular, the report cements carbon dioxide removal technology as a critical, required component of emissions abatement and climate mitigation. This type of tech pulls carbon out of the air and oceans.

The report solidifies another important concept: while useful, nature-based carbon removals alone—like creating new forests—won’t be enough. The limits to land and water, and the sheer tonnage required of removals, makes nature-based solutions insufficient.

To quote Roy Scheider in “Jaws”: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

The authors state categorically that carbon removal technologies are required—"need to have,” not “want to have”—to stabilize climate change at relatively safe levels. Depending on how we invest and the risk we’ll accept for “safe” stabilization, we will need between 75 billion and 200 billion tons of cumulative carbon removal by 2060—estimates similar to those of the Energy Transition Commission and the International Energy Agency.

For perspective, 75 billion tons is 150 times the weight of all humans on Earth (and perhaps as much as 400 times is needed). Plus running a global industry the size of the global oil and gas industry, in reverse, for another century.

That’s what we get for waiting a century to clean our room—the planet where we live.

For well over a decade, scientists and decision makers have known the risk of overshoot—exceeding the carbon budget for a sustainable world—was high, growing and frightening.

What’s worse, global greenhouse gas emissions rose again last year to a record high level, including increased use of coal and continued, widespread deforestation.

Since the IPCC is the platform from which the world’s climate and energy experts speak with clarity and consensus, it reflects a consolidation of that consensus position: the necessity of CO2 removal as a plank of climate change mitigation.

For many years, this discussion was not particularly welcome in polite climate circles. The main concern was moral hazard, the idea that creating an option to remove emissions would limit ambition to abate them.

I’ve been working in this space of climate mitigation and carbon management for 20 years. It’s invigorating to see the IPCC underscore the importance of carbon removal technologies and a real triumph of arithmetic.

The good news to accompany the IPCC’s warnings is that we have already demonstrated these technologies.

We can (and do) use bioenergy to remove carbon from the air and oceans and combine it with carbon capture to keep it under geological lockdown. We can (and do) suck small volumes of CO2 from ambient air using direct-air capture machines. We can (and do) convert CO2 to stone right at the earth’s surface using mine tailings, industrial wastes and specialty minerals.

Major companies, from Microsoft and Shopify to GlaxoSmithKline and Airbus, have added these technology options to their CO2 removal purchases explicitly to scale up deployment of technology-enabled CO2 removal. And many have done so in partnership with Carbon Direct.

The IPCC team makes the case that these new technology pathways can provide the most abatement and scale most quickly and profoundly. By underscoring the importance of carbon removal technologies to reaching a net-zero emissions future, the IPCC is making the case for what we need now: investment, innovation and commitment.

Innovation and investment go hand in hand. Investment in building facilities stimulates innovation, which lowers cost and risk, which stimulates new investment. Myriad cleantech solutions, including solar, wind, light bulbs, batteries and electric vehicles, have followed this recipe. We must follow it again with carbon removal.

The IPCC’s consensus on carbon removal is a welcome development. I hope it prods governments and companies to accelerate their commitments supporting and deploying this essential technology.
Lunchtime Reads and Hot Takes
Toad whose habitat is at geothermal project site is emergency listed as endangeredNevada Current
Amy’s take: Tackling climate change requires countless decisions about cutting emissions despite genuine and sometimes significant tradeoffs. Tradeoffs are unavoidable when tackling a problem as omnipresent as climate change, and I wish stories like this would acknowledge that more.

Here in Byron Bay we survived last month’s flooding—
but this is something elseThe Guardian
Amy’s take: This is a devastating reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing here at Cipher and the broader Breakthrough Energy network.

Germany strikes compromise between wind power expansion and nature protection Euractiv
Anca’s take: The decision in Germany reflects a growing debate in the EU: how to boost the uptake of renewable energy in densely populated countries that are running out of space without disturbing the fragile ecosystem. With Europe keen to meet its ambitious green energy targets, it’s a debate set to get louder.

Energy Dept. pushes heat pumps to reduce greenhouse emissionsThe Washington Post
Amy’s take: The gap between the amount of excitement I have about heat pumps and the importance of them is embarrassingly large. I know they’re important, but I find it a slog to read about them. This one did a good job of talking to experts and more laypeople about the pros and cons—and why they are essential climate technologies.

How to move Europe from gas heat to heat pumps — fastCanary Media
Amy’s take: Caveat noted above, but this is a good rundown of heat pumps in Europe.

EU Proposes Ban on Russian Coal Imports, Ships After Atrocities Bloomberg
Anca’s take: It’s an important move since the EU gets about half of its hard coal needs from Russia, worth $4.4 billion per year. It’s also a testament to how dire the war in Ukraine is. A month ago, it would have seemed unfeasible to include the energy sector in the EU’s sanctions package due to extensive interdependent trade with Russia. However, despite the war crimes in Ukraine, the EU has left oil and gas off the table.

‘Green steel’ heating up in Sweden’s frozen north AP News
Amy’s take: Steel may not be something most of us think about at all, but we should. An executive at Volvo says steel contributes between 20%-35% of a car’s carbon footprint.

Surging price of battery materials complicates carmakers’ electric plans Financial Times (paywall)
Anca’s take:Battery companies, carmakers and suppliers are now grappling with the prospect that electric cars may be less profitable, or require cheaper materials, if they are to remain financially competitive.” That’s not good news considering that making EVs more affordable is key in getting more people to ditch diesel- and gasoline-powered cars—and reduce emissions.

More of what we’re reading:
  • Climeworks Raises $650 Million in Largest Round for Carbon Removal Startup Bloomberg
  • IKEA invests $373 mln in solar park projects in Germany, Spain — Reuters
  • Ministers launch fracking study, paving way to end moratorium in England — The Guardian
  • U.N. launches group to hold companies to account for net-zero pledges — Reuters
  • This daughter and father founded a company to bury nuclear waste by drilling deep boreholes CNBC
  • What’s better for cooking, gas or induction hobs? — The Guardian
  • Canadian ex-minister Catherine McKenna named to head UN greenwash watchdog — Climate Home News
Stark changes in electricity needed to limit global warming
Source: Ember, International Energy Agency's net-zero roadmap • Other clean electricity includes hydropower, nuclear, bioenergy, tidal, geothermal and wave.


The latest United Nations report underscores the drastic changes our world economy must undergo to sufficiently combat climate change. The chart above, via a new report by Ember, an independent think tank based in London, does a good job of distilling what needs to happen in the electricity sector.

The report finds that wind and solar could actually be on track to fulfill their role limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius if they keep up the fast growth clip they’re on now through 2030. These two renewable electricity sources accounted for more than 10% of total global electricity generation for the first time ever, Ember found.

Growth in other clean electricity sources, including nuclear power and hydropower, have stalled and must pick up the pace to get closer to the 1.5-degree goal.

Interestingly, natural gas power just needs to plateau to help reach the goal of limiting Earth’s temperature to 1.5 degrees.

The goal is becoming increasingly difficult to reach, but experts stress the need to keep striving for it even if it’s not met, given the cumulative impacts of global warming.

Electricity is also just one part of the world’s emissions (others include manufacturing and transportation). Shifting these and other sectors to be powered by electricity makes this sector particularly important to clean up.
Hood Canal Hydro
My home state of Washington produces the most hydropower in the country. Here’s a photo I snapped recently while on a trip in Hood Canal, a Washington state fjord. This is Cushman Dam on the Skokomish River.

Each week, we feature a photo that is somehow related to energy, the thing we all need but don’t notice until it’s expensive or gone. Email your ideas and photos to

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