Greenhouse gas removal: Science Academy says we need to be thinking about it more

The Australian Academy of Science is pushing the government to include greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere in headline science policy and funding.

To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that some greenhouses gases will need to be removed from the atmosphere, in addition to deep and wide-ranging emissions cuts.

There are a range of negative emissions technologies that can do this – ranging from land management like soil carbon farming to machines that directly capture carbon dioxide. But most are still in their infancy.

What can Australia contribute to the efforts? According to the Academy of Science, we’ve got the land and the renewables resources to do a lot.

The Academy hosted a roundtable on greenhouse gas removal  to figure out what research, investment and cooperation Australia needed to create an industry at scale. .

With parts of the national science system under review by the federal government, the Academy report says there’s an opportunity to build greenhouse gas removal into policy: for instance, by creating a national greenhouse gas removal target.

It also emphasises that greenhouse gas removal “does not diminish the unarguable obligation to reduce emissions”.

Greenhouse gases, and particularly carbon dioxide, can be removed from the atmosphere via enhanced natural processes – like afforestation, ocean kelp farming, and soil sequestration – or chemical processes, like materials that react with CO2 or changing the acidity of rock surfaces to make them absorb CO2.

As Cosmos has been reporting recently, once captured, the greenhouse gases can be stored underground or in the ocean, or converted into carbon-based materials for further use.

“The reality for us is there is no going to be no silver bullet. In fact, we’re going to need a portfolio of solutions. But the opportunities here really do need to be emphasised,” said Professor Deanna D’Alessandro, a chemist at the University of Sydney, at the Academy’s launch of the report.

These opportunities include a boost in regional manufacturing for things like direct-air capture units, abundant land and ocean space for storage, and more research in perfecting these technologies.

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