Rationale

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is needed at significant scales, both to reach net zero and to support a net negative phase, the latter to compensate for any overshoot and bring atmospheric concentrations back to safer levels. The targeted volumes are significant 5 to 16 GtCO2/yr by 2050 according to the IPCC to stay well below 2°C and the time to deploy such CDR capacity is short 27 years max. Immediate action and investments are, therefore, required. 

Yet, most estimates of how much CDR will be necessary are global in nature, and it is unclear what is achievable on a country-specific basis. Revealing the potential for CDR deployment on a country-by-country basis and co-creating specific roadmaps with key stakeholders for each country will assist decision makers in understanding what opportunities exist and what actions need to be taken to realise them. 

Carbon Gap, Europe’s leading carbon dioxide removal (CDR) advocacy and research NGO, is coordinating the project “Country CDR Readiness Assessment” to fill this gap by assessing the real potential to deploy CDR through a bottom-up approach.  

Many governments have already committed to net zero, but setting meaningful CDR targets remains a difficult exercise. Different approaches are possible/observed:  

  • Countries can start by quantifying their residual emissions levels, and assume they will deploy as much in CDR.
  • They can translate the global CDR targets into what they consider a fair contribution (using criteria like the ability to pay or historical responsibility).
  • They can rely on well-established CDR methods, typically enhancing natural sinks.

The first two approaches are largely aspirational and do not necessarily correspond to real capacities. They also pay little regard to the real availability of the targeted resources or to the social context of the country, potentially resulting in unachievable targets. The third option leans on existing knowledge but allows for limited ambition and consistently results in over relying on natural sinks. 

An alternative and underrepresented approach consists in conducting a bottom-up assessment to quantify how much countries can perform in practice using their resources and the diversity of CDR pathways. This approach is the backbone of the “country CDR readiness assessment” project which aims at designing a methodology to reveal the CDR potential on a country-by-country basis using a bottom-up approach to account for technical limitations linked to the availability of the resources needed to perform CDR, and the limitations associated with the social context of the country. This assessment is then turned into an actionable roadmap for implementation through a participative process involving the prominent local stakeholders. 

This project is largely inspired by IRENA’s Renewable Readiness Assessments. 

In its first phase, the project covers:

🇫🇷 France

🇳🇴 Norway

🇦🇪 The UAE

Our research questions

How much CDR can a given country deploy?
With what optimal portfolio of CDR pathways?
What needs to happen to make this a reality?
Sky seen through a narrow gap in a canyon wall

Methodology

Stage 1: background report

The first phase of each country project consists in preparing a background report where the different dimensions of the deployment of CDR pathways are assessed to evaluate the potential of the country through a bottom-up approach.

1. Selection of the CDR pathways considered in the project

CDR is a diverse and quickly expanding family of techniques. Covering all the possible techniques is virtually impossible and would make little sense considering some are still too nascent to be deployed in the near term. 

In this first step, the project team reviewed existing CDR taxonomies, the maturity / relevance of the existing CDR pathways and narrowed the scope down to a list of 20 CDR pathways covering the diversity of CDR approaches.

 

Figure 1: overview of the methodology of the project

2. Resource requirements of CDR pathways:  

This work package is a collaboration between Carbon Gap and RMI (formerly Rocky Mountain Institute) and seeks to create a database to characterise the physical resources needs (land, water, energy…) of the considered CDR methods to deliver each net tonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere that is then stored. The “net” is important for ensuring we compare apples to apples. It means that the project is primarily interested in requirements estimated based on a life cycle analysis of the process. 

The database blends academic literature data, information extracted from the applications of CDR companies to the Stripe/Frontier advanced markets commitment mechanism, and information provided by operating CDR companies. 

The deliverable of this work package is a comprehensive database providing the basis for defining common estimates of resource requirements per CDR pathway.

3. Assessment of the existing resources: physical geography of the country 

This work package is carried out by local consulting partners and supervised by Carbon Gap. The existence and actual availability of all the resources required to perform the selected CDR pathways is assessed using preexisting data/report/scenarios.  

This assessment is more than a snapshot. Trends and location matter. Resources are mapped geographically, and their trends and projection are considered for the report to give a sense of the near-term trends and inform the planning done in roadmaps.

4. Existing policy 

This work package aims at characterising the current policy environment of CDR to identify facilitators as well as blockers and gaps in the existing regulations and incentives. 

At this point, the results from work packages 2, 3 and 4 are combined to produce raw estimates of the theoretical potential to deploy CDR. This indicates how much CDR the country could deploy if no other limitations were imposed, which of the various CDR pathways offer most of the potential, and where in the country these activities could take place.

5. Social geography 

The study continues with an assessment of the social reality of the country. The local consultants supervised by Carbon Gap build a representative picture of the structure of the economy, the political landscape (groups, positions, trends), the human resources (skillsets, availability), and of the cultural, aesthetic, religious and ethical considerations characteristic to the country. 

This desk research is complemented with a series of targeted interviews and citizen panels conducted by the local consultants to capture the perceptions, level of knowledge and position of the relevant national stakeholders on CDR. The key stakeholders involved in the engagement work include policymakers, legislators, industrial players, academics, civil society organisations and citizens.  

The deliverable of this WP is a list of enablers and limitations arising from the social geography of the country and how they translate into quantified limitations. For example, an activity like onshore storage may be prohibited, or so unpopular that it is ruled out. Resources like water may be subject to tensions in specific areas, ruling out new uses like CDR. 

Once these limitations are factored in the overall assessment, estimates of the practical potential can be created. They correspond to the fraction of the theoretical potential that is achievable under current conditions. Having both theoretical and practical estimations is useful to reveal the nature of the main limiting factors to the deployment of CDR capacity (technical, societal or both).

Stage 2: Roadmap to deployment

In the second phase, the project team, together with a selected group of national stakeholders, build on the learning of the background report to co-design a national CDR deployment roadmap. The agreed roadmap reflects the collective choices around the extent to which the identified CDR potential is realised, the prioritised methods and the timeline for deployment. This participative design is important for increasing the chances of the roadmap for being implemented.

Outcomes of the project

  • A proven methodology and the associated required data to generate the reports and roadmaps. This methodology is purposely designed “to be stolen” so that more countries can create their own reports following the same standards. 
  • First bottom-up estimations of the theoretical and practical potential to deploy CDR in the countries covered by the project. 
  • Beyond the report, the project creates a platform for engagement with stakeholders for collective learning and planning. A large part of the added value of this project lies in the networks, conversations and empowerment that will occur during the project within the national stakeholders. 
  • Actionable roadmaps for national policy makers, co-designed with prominent national stakeholders.