Carbon sequestration is critical to meet Paris targets, so what policies do we need to encourage it in Australia?

Cosmos Magazine


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Australia has opportunities to grasp in carbon sequestration, according to a new paper from the Federal Government’s Climate Change Authority.

The paper outlines ways that policy could help to improve the nation’s sequestration potential, from helping to improve carbon capture technology to developing standards for sequestration.

“Meeting the Paris Agreement objectives for limiting global warming is only possible with both rapid reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of emissions from the atmosphere,” says Climate Change Authority CEO, Brad Archer.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency indicate the only technically feasible, cost effective and socially acceptable pathways to net zero by 2050 combine ambitious emissions reductions with carbon dioxide removals at far greater scale than at present.”

Read more: The world needs to do two things to meet its climate targets, one of which needs to ramp up now

While cutting greenhouse gas emissions remains the cheapest and simplest way of mitigating climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that we’ll need to remove at least 6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050, in parallel to emissions reduction, to keep an even chance of staying under 1.5°C of warming.

The paper contains 23 policy insights for carbon sequestration in Australia.

Among these insights are an emphasis that no single technology will be able to sequester enough carbon; long-lived geological and mineral storage should be a government priority; and that sequestration should be included in the government’s net zero plan.

One of the insights also suggests that separate emissions reduction targets should be set, both as an incentive and to “help guard against sequestration being used to delay emissions reductions”.

The paper points out that while biological sequestration methods, like soil carbon, are currently the most common and often provide other benefits, these storage methods are usually shorter-term than engineering solutions, like injecting captured carbon underground.

Read more: Sucking CO2: The tech to make direct air capture viable

Soil carbon, for instance, improves the output of farms – but the carbon is stored on the scale of decades or centuries, while geological storage can last millennia.

In its 2022 carbon sequestration report, the CSIRO predicts that engineered storage markets will grow much more than biological sequestration, particularly after 2050 as the technology improves and biological sinks become saturated.

Read more: IPCC: New methods for Australia’s carbon future

The Authority’s paper emphasises that a mixture of tools, and policies designed to enable them, will help to improve Australia’s carbon sequestration.

“The Authority’s Report highlights that more work is required to map and understand just how much of Australia’s sequestration potential can be realised,” says Archer.

“While reducing emissions at source is critical, the extent of the climate challenge means there must be effort directed to sequestration.

“We need to use all the tools in the toolkit. That includes developing a carefully designed portfolio of approaches, as no single technology can achieve the levels of sequestration likely to be needed.”

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