Climate change is a threat to all life on Earth, and we can’t abate that threat without removing significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) already present in the atmosphere.
British Columbia has the resources and expertise to be a world leader in that work — but not without leadership and a strategy.
That’s the key argument of PICS’ latest report, Survive and Thrive: Why BC needs a CO2 removal strategy now.
Written by Dr. Devin Todd, PICS Researcher in Residence in Negative Emissions Technologies, Survive and Thrive explores why such a strategy is necessary immediately, what it could consider and include — and why public leadership is vital to its creation and success.
“There’s no other time to create a carbon removal strategy but the present if BC wants to thrive despite the challenges of climate change,” Todd says. “And that strategy must focus on negative emissions technologies.”
Negative emissions technologies (NETs) are systems that remove CO2 or other greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. These solutions can come in many forms, but to be effective must remove GHGs from the atmosphere and store them from very long to permanent time frames.
Examples include mechanical, direct air CO2 capture and storage; afforestation; land management to fix carbon in soils; and ocean alkalinity enhancement to increase CO2 levels in seawater. Carbon accountability and durability are critical for all these options.
“There is a critical need to continue to reduce emissions, but there is also no substitute for negative emissions,” says Todd. “We will be unable to limit climate change without emission reduction and enough NETs, with consequences for lives and livelihoods across the country and world.”
Survive and Thrive proposes not a set strategy, but outlines a set of elements necessary to create a proactive, integrated approach. Such an approach, Todd explains, must grow the NET sector as a whole, supporting a portfolio of solutions.
Despite the urgency required, an organized sector does not yet exist to finance and produce NETs, in BC or anywhere else.
“The effect is that no one is at the helm directing us towards sufficient quantities of NETs, with the right qualities, for the right reasons,” says Todd.
“A made-in-BC strategy can mobilize people and resources towards a shared goal, and position the province for global leadership in an emerging essential sector.”
Policymakers hold a key role towards an effective NET strategy, according to Survive and Thrive. The report proposes a first step in developing such a strategy would be these essential leaders and guides convening partners to develop a first iteration of a NETs vision and principles.
“To be successful, any strategy must adopt a co-production process that brings together policymakers, industry, scientists, Indigenous Nations, and others to build the sector,” he says. “A strategy must combine the agility and ingenuity of the private sector with the long-term risk capacity of the public sector.”
This “catalytic community” could build the sector and ensure its long-term adoption and success, while jointly managing the sector’s inherent risks and opportunities. NET production will need to encompass research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D), with an eye to achieving scale.
The report concludes BC has the opportunity to make an outsized contribution to reducing the world’s load of atmospheric carbon, while potentially generating economic benefit for British Columbians — and is in an ideal position to encourage innovation and build sustainable capacity.
Swift action is key, Todd stresses throughout the report. Less than a decade at current emission rates remains before the world exceeds the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of less than 1.5-degree Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels.
“Overall, we have had decades of warning on the consequences of GHG emissions — and decades of failure to meet emissions reduction targets,” says Todd. “It is unquestionable that we need to do better when it comes to addressing positive emissions and their underlying drivers.
“When it comes to NETs, we cannot afford to repeat a pattern of indecisiveness.”