, Volume 118, Issue 1, pp 45-57,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 22 Feb 2013

Is atmospheric carbon dioxide removal a game changer for climate change mitigation?


The ability to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere allows the decoupling of emissions and emissions control in space and time. We ask the question whether this unique feature of carbon dioxide removal technologies fundamentally alters the dynamics of climate mitigation pathways. The analysis is performed in the coupled energy-economy-climate model ReMIND using the bioenergy with CCS route as an application of CDR technology. BECCS is arguably the least cost CDR option if biomass availability is not a strongly limiting factor. We compare mitigation pathways with and without BECCS to explore the impact of CDR technologies on the mitigation portfolio. Effects are most pronounced for stringent climate policies where BECCS is a key technology for the effectiveness of carbon pricing policies. The decoupling of emissions and emissions control allows prolonging the use of fossil fuels in sectors that are difficult to decarbonize, particularly in the transport sector. It also balances the distribution of mitigation costs across future generations. CDR is not a silver bullet technology. The largest part of emissions reductions continues to be provided by direct mitigation measures at the emissions source. The value of CDR lies in its flexibility to alleviate the most costly constraints on mitigating emissions.

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Carbon Dioxide Removal from the Atmosphere: Complementary Insights from Science and Modeling” edited by Massimo Tavoni, Robert Socolow, and Carlo Carraro.