from Fast Company
Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have spewed an extra 2.4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, pushing the average global temperature up more than 1.2 degrees Celsius. The world adds another 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. We’re already seeing what that means, from catastrophic flooding to heat waves that scientists thought were statistically impossible. As emissions shrink, the world will also need a way to pull the CO2 we’ve already emitted out of the air, both to cover the continued emissions of industries that are hard to decarbonize and to correct the historical imbalance.
By one estimate, even as the world eliminates almost all emissions, we’ll need to be able to capture 10 billion tons of CO2 a year by 2050, and 20 billion tons a year later in the century, using both nature-based solutions like trees and new technology like direct air capture machines. A recent report from Swiss Re, the reinsurance company, points out that accomplishing that would require an industry the size of the current oil and gas industry.
The 20 billion metric ton benchmark “corresponds to today’s emissions generated by human consumption of all oil and gas products in one year,” the authors write. “If it takes a trillion-dollar industry to provide for all the oil and gas that causes 20 billion tonnes of emissions today, it will take the next trillion-dollar industry to remove that same amount from the atmosphere in 2050.”
That’s a massive challenge, because the carbon removal industry is tiny now, removing only around 10,000 metric tons of emissions a year. More startups are entering the field now, attempting to make successful businesses that capture carbon in soil on farm fields, plant trees, and turn captured carbon into products like fuel and vodka. But the industry will have to grow by a factor of a million over a few decades, the report says, at a growth rate of around 60%.