Removing atmospheric greenhouse gases to prevent dangerous climate change

Earth seen from space
27 June 2017

Technologies for removing greenhouse gas emissions is an emerging research frontier required for a safe climate

Global atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations are continuing to increase, and the impacts of a changing climate are being felt on human and natural systems. Meanwhile, there is growing acknowledgement of the need for nations to take concerted action to limit future warming by reducing GHGs.  

In 2015 the UNFCCC Paris Agreement stated that future warming should be limited to 1.5-2oC. However, when added up, the national committed emission reduction targets are more consistent with future warming of 3oC or beyond. Importantly, all Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios which limit warming to 1.5 oC (and most which limit warming to 2 oC) require implementation of negative emissions technology (NET): methods which sequester GHGs from the atmosphere.

These developments ramp up the need to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (known as negative emissions), though at present there is limited funding for research seeking to develop appropriate technologies and policy options for successful implementation. Given this research need, and the present gap in research on the topic, there is likely to be significant future interest in this space.

Research needs include the development and advancement of technologies for removing greenhouse gases, studies on the effectiveness of the technologies, and ethics, policy and political implications; all which contribute to the exploration of effective and practicable negative emissions technologies to limit future warming to agreed upon, safe, levels.

As policy and political interests build in this space over time, existing research strengths and capacities will need to be directed toward developing an informed, sensible, and innovative perspective on negative emissions. At present, there is no clear leadership to the discussion.

To this end, the ANU Climate Change Institute is facilitating a process of connecting researchers across The Australian National University to identify opportunities to address the complex dimensions of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Researchers from across ANU are advancing the negative emissions research agenda. The Research School of Earth Sciences includes negative emissions as a key research theme.