We Can Pull Greenhouse Gases Out of Our Environment. And It’s Time to Step Up the Game.

To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to scale technologies that remove heat-trapping gases via the air, land, and sea.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 50% since the industrial revolution. Solutions to removing them offer hope. (Photo credit: Marcel Clemens / Shutterstock)

First, the good news: Brilliant inventors and entrepreneurs across the globe have figured out how to capture carbon dioxide and remove it from the air, land, and sea. And in the last few years, investments in this technology have grown significantly. This is incredible progress that would have been unimaginable less than a decade ago.

Now for the bad news: Very little of this tech has been deployed to date — only enough to permanently remove one million tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs). And we need to remove billions...per year.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the latest science estimates that by 2050 we need to have removed around 10 gigatons of GHGs per year to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

To put this in perspective, consider that throughout humans’ expansive history of groundbreaking innovation, mind-blowing ingenuity, and relentless exploration and discovery, we have rarely scaled anything to the gigaton scale.

Removing emissions is essential to achieving long-term climate goals.

Here is the sobering reality: Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 50% since the industrial revolution. Methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide levels are rising. So massively reducing emissions remains a priority — but at the same time, we also need to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere entirely.

Some of the work to remove emissions will absolutely come from natural solutions like reforestation. But given land constraints, there is likely to be a gap.

This is where technology comes in.

Ingenious minds around the world have already figured out a myriad of exciting technologies that can remove these gases via the air, oceans, rocks, and land.

At the forefront of these is something called Direct Air Capture (DAC), a technology that extracts carbon dioxide molecules from the atmosphere using fan-like machines. Other scientists are focused on carbon dioxide removal technology that crushes rocks to increase the surface area of natural chemical reactions. Still others are developing tech that involves dropping crushed minerals into the ocean to increase its alkalinity and boost its absorption of carbon dioxide. There are even solutions that involve amplifying the photosynthetic process in trees to activate a more robust uptake of carbon dioxide.

A plan will help us get there.

Our task now is to accelerate and scale these technologies. Some, like DAC, are more mature because of early funding opportunities, while others are frontier technologies, ripe for vibrant experimentation and innovation.

At the Bezos Earth Fund, we’ve recently announced an initiative to build on and accelerate the great work already happening in this space. Part of our portfolio includes developing a global roadmap to GHG removal at scale to ensure we don’t miss our target. The roadmap will also help foster the kind of global collaboration and coordination necessary to meet this monumental challenge.

At the Bezos Earth Fund’s Scaling Greenhouse Gas Removal workshop in Washington, DC, we asked participants to answer the question: In one word, what will it take to meet our 2050 goal?

Designed through a lens of inclusivity, the roadmap will identify key milestones and actions we need to take — and by when — over the next 25 years to bridge advancements across science, policy, and markets, and avoid unintended consequences in underserved communities. We’re human, after all, and humans think incrementally.

To deepen the development of our roadmap and to ensure it reflects diverse voices and perspectives, the Earth Fund hosted a workshop this month on GHG removal. This two-day event followed an ideation prize we launched in January to discover projects that will spur technological solutions, with first phase proposals due March 1.

Everything about this task is huge. The stakes and scale are enormous — but so is our collective human potential to tackle problems. And based on the ideas bubbling up from so many who are rising to the challenge, it's clear we will continue to achieve the unimaginable.

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