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Technology

The World Needs Way More Carbon Dioxide Removal

On getting rid of legacy emissions, groundwater, and geoengineering

The World Needs Way More Carbon Dioxide Removal
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A large wildfire is burning out of control in northwestern Turkey • Intense storms killed at least 11 people in South Africa • It will be 109 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix today, and tomorrow will be hotter.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Report: Global carbon dioxide removal must quadruple

A team of international researchers this week published a new report on the state of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) as it relates to global climate goals. The top-line takeaway is that CDR must quadruple if we want to stay in line with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While stopping new greenhouse gas emissions is the top priority in curbing global warming, experts agree CDR will be needed to address legacy emissions, which can remain in the atmosphere for decades.

Current CDR efforts – from reforestation to direct air capture technology – remove about 2 billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. That’s far short of the 7-9 billion metric tons that will need to be removed annually by 2050. But the report’s authors say there are signs that CDR development is slowing down. They call for more investment to support the “high ambitions” of CDR companies, and want countries to weave CDR policies into their national climate action plans to spark demand and help CDR scale. Currently just 1.1% of investment in climate-tech startups goes toward CDR. In April, a report found that the U.S. will need to spend $100 billion per year by 2050 to make CDR a viable climate solution.

One really interesting insight from the report is that grant money is flowing steadily toward CDR research and development, especially in the U.S. and Canada: There were fewer than 50 third-party research grants for CDR in the year 2000, compared to 1,160 in 2022.

State of CDR report

Somewhat relatedly, Swiss carbon removal company Climeworks yesterday unveiled new “generation 3” technology that it said can suck up twice as much carbon from the atmosphere using half the amount of energy as its previous designs.

2. Researchers warn climate change is heating Earth’s groundwater

A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that the Earth’s groundwater is warming up due to climate change. For the study, researchers created a model to estimate changes in groundwater temperatures in varying global warming scenarios. Their model shows that by the end of the century, groundwater could be between 2.1 and 3.5 degrees Celsius (or between 3.8 and 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer on average than it is today. This would be bad news for ecosystems that rely on groundwater, as well as for humans: “As groundwater warms, there is increased risk of pathogen growth which impacts drinking water quality – potentially affecting the lives of many people,” said co-author Dr. Gabriel Rau of the University of Newcastle. The warming will vary by region, but parts of North America will see some of the most intense warming rates.

3. China unveils world’s largest solar farm

The world’s largest solar farm just came online. The 5-gigawatt, 200,000-acre farm is located in China’s Xinjiang region, and was officially connected to China’s grid on Monday. It’s one piece of China’s larger “megabase” initiative to install 455 GW of wind and solar. The new farm will generate about 6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year, making it “powerful enough to meet the electricity demands of a country the size of Luxembourg or Papua New Guinea,” as Anthony Cuthbertson at the Independent put it. The second- and third-largest solar farms (by capacity) are also located in China. A recent report from the International Energy Agency called China the world’s “renewable powerhouse” because it accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s new renewable capacity that will become operational by 2028.

4. German floods spread into neighboring countries

Southern Germany has been absolutely hammered by torrential rain in recent days, resulting in overflowing rivers and deadly floods. Five people have died in the disaster. To give you a sense of how bad the situation is, more than a month’s worth of rain fell in the region between Friday and Monday, and water levels in the city of Passau rose by 32 feet. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reminded everyone that this kind of weather is not normal, saying that “we must not neglect the task of halting man-made climate change.”

Cleanup begins in a flooded town in Germany.Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

The rain is easing up now and some towns are starting their cleanup efforts, but all that water has to go somewhere, and BBC reports it’s headed down the Danube River into Austria, Hungary, and possibly Slovakia. Already the river burst its banks in the Austrian city of Linz, and Austria has halted all shipping activity in the river.

5. California city votes to cancel contentious geoengineering study

A first-of-its-kind geoengineering research project in California has been officially canceled. The research, conducted by a team from the University of Washington, involved spraying sea salt aerosol particles into the air using an instrument situated on a decommissioned aircraft carrier in Alameda, California. This process has been pitched as a way to brighten clouds and reflect the sun’s rays to cool the planet. Because studies on manipulating the climate are so controversial, the researchers kept the project on the downlow until it was up and running, and this lack of transparency – rather than any safety concerns – seems to have really rubbed city officials the wrong way. The Alameda City Council voted this morning to reject the experiment. “You didn’t start out on the right foot,” Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft told the researchers.

The dispute may be a little preview of things to come. “There’s a fair number of people who think there shouldn’t be research [on geoengineering], and these early experiments have become a proxy battleground for this larger question about how to think about the development of these technologies,” David Keith, director of the Climate Systems Engineering Initiative at the University of Chicago, toldThe Washington Post.

THE KICKER

The Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum in Ohio is now powered by rooftop solar.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

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Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

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THE TOP FIVE

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