Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere

The aim of this programme is to carry out research to better understand the options for removing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, with a focus on the environmental, technical, economic, governance and wider societal aspects in a national and international context.

£8.6 million
2017 to 2021
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Met Office Hadley Centre, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The scope and what we're doing

The programme will carry out research to improve our knowledge of the options for removing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at a climatically-relevant scale, giving interdisciplinary attention to the environmental, technical, economic, governance and wider societal aspects of such approaches on a national level and in an international context.

The co-support of the greenhouse gas removal programme reflects its interdisciplinary and strategic purpose, not only to advance scientific understanding in those funders’ remits, but also to provide information and evidence relevant to UK climate policy needs and more widely. The overall programme objectives reflect that strategic purpose:

  • to better define the real world feasibility of greenhouse gas removal techniques that might significantly assist in achieving climate policy goals from a range of technical, economic, societal and environmental perspectives
  • to synthesise and assess existing and newly acquired information on potential greenhouse gas removal techniques, making those informed assessments easily available and useful to the national and international policymaking community for maximum impact.

Value of the outcomes

The outcomes are expected to be of particular value to several bodies and policies.

UK national climate change policy

The programme will provide evidence and advice to BEIS and the UK Committee on Climate Change. They will be important for the Committee on Climate Change’s statutory advice on national carbon budgets and the future UK reporting requirements (through nationally determined contributions) of the Paris agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, working closely with the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The outcomes of the programme will be of particular value in the context of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report tentatively scheduled for publication in 2021 and special reports. They will also be important for other intergovernmental bodies, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, with particular interests in the impacts of unconventional climate mitigation.

Why we're doing it

The large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is assumed in nearly all scenario-based climate models that succeed in holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels as well as the more ambitious pursuit of efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. These were agreed in Paris in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21).

Such negative emissions by greenhouse gas removal are also almost certainly necessary to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. Thus some anthropogenic emissions (for example, those from agriculture) which will be extremely difficult to eliminate, will need to be balanced by active uptake to achieve emission neutrality.

The feasibility, mechanisms and implications of greenhouse gas removal are insufficiently understood. Thus it is currently highly uncertain that any single greenhouse gas removal technique, or combination of techniques, can be implemented at the scale likely to be required to avoid dangerous climate change. And such deployment would be in addition to, not as an alternative to, the priority actions of reducing emissions at source, maximising energy efficiency, and protecting natural carbon sinks.

Important knowledge gaps for greenhouse gas removal include those relating to technological efficiency, environmental impacts (that may be both positive and negative), cost-effectiveness, governance, geo-political equity, social impacts, financing and public acceptability.

As a result, the constraints on the effective future implementation of greenhouse gas removal are only poorly (if at all) characterised in model pathways. Coordinated research on such topics will advance scientific understanding while also contributing to policy-relevant assessments, providing evidence for decisions on which greenhouse gas removal approaches warrant the next level of research and development investment to implement effective climate change mitigation.

While potential co-benefits (for example, maintaining biodiversity, flood prevention, air quality and meeting the UN sustainable development goals) are an important consideration for some greenhouse gas removal techniques, most research effort is expected to address the weakest link, which are the key uncertainties, knowledge gaps and trade-offs likely to be involved, with implications for societal legitimacy.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Simon Howe

Telephone: 01793 418015

Last updated: 30 November 2023

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