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Billions for Carbon Removal Crucial to Net Zero Goal, Moniz Says

Dec. 8, 2022, 9:31 PM

The US needs a massive expansion of next-generation carbon removal technologies overseen by a new federal agency to pull billions of tons of emissions from the air to meet net-zero emissions goals in coming decades, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday.

But getting there would require federal investment dwarfing anything Congress has yet considered in advancing carbon capture policies: $33.2 billion just for the initial 10-year period, according to a report by Energy Futures Initiative, a group Moniz launched in 2017 to back energy innovation.

Significant amounts of carbon dioxide would likely need removal to hold global warming below a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) temperature rise from the pre-industrial era—or even 1.5 degrees if possible. Nations agreed to that goal at the 2015 Paris climate talks to avoid significant climate change impacts.

“The big scale we’re talking about is not exactly for the faint of heart” Moniz said at a news conference unveiling recommendations calling for a national carbon removal program. “But neither is the challenge.”

Modeling by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests carbon removal will be needed to meet that target and global decarbonization goals that call for net zero emissions by mid-century.

But pulling emissions from the atmosphere will also be crucial to the next step, the pursuit of “net negative” emissions, as the world would still need to offset some hard-to-abate emissions such as those from cement, steel, and other heavy industries.

Globally, roughly six to 10 gigatons of emissions would have to be removed each year by 2050 to meet the targets, according to the report. The US contribution could be significant, with the US ramping up to remove one gigaton total by 2050 and scaling that up to one gigaton annually by 2060, the report said.

Growing Federal Support

The US has rapidly scaled up funding and other support for carbon capture and storage over the last four years after extending carbon capture tax credits to direct air capture technologies in 2018.

The climate package (Public Law 117-169) that President Joe Biden signed in August expanded and extended those tax credits, ensuring consistent support for direct air capture and other carbon capture efforts for the next decade.

Moniz, who served as President Barack Obama’s energy secretary for nearly four years, said his proposal includes an endorsement of a new federal entity outside of the Energy Department to manage the large-scale carbon removal effort. A new National Carbon Removal Authority, set up as a government corporation, would be needed to run it with an eye toward launching a massive carbon removal program as early as 2035, the report said.

More legislation will also be needed in the near-term to help expand incentives for carbon storage, according to Democratic Reps. Paul Tonko (N.Y.) and Scott Peters (Calif.), who joined Moniz on Thursday.

Introduced in April, their Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act (H.R. 7434) would direct the Energy Department to set up a pilot procurement program paying for early efforts to store carbon directly removed from the atmosphere.

The bill has no Republican cosponsors, and its outlook is unclear given the divided Congress that begins in January. But both parties have worked together in recent years to advance policies on carbon capture, including direct air capture.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bloombergindustry.com