The Dutch Scientific Climate Council (WKR), of which our colleague professor Linda Steg is a member, advises the new government cabinet to urgently focus on policy for permanent CO2 removal in their just released advisory report, “Clearing the Air?“.

Government action is crucial in order to make cabon dioxide removal from the atmosphere a reality. This requires full commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the Netherlands also needs CO2 removal in order to become climate neutral and make it likelier that our planet will remain below 1.5 degrees temperature rise.

CO2 removal will not happen on its own, and it will take a long time to realize at the scale needed to be effective. That is why policy needs to start being put in place right now.

The Netherlands’ net greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero as soon as possible in order for the Netherlands to make a fair and responsible contribution to the climate goals. This is vital in order to prevent the worst climate consequences, such as extreme weather and sea level rise. CO2 removal – taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequestering it for a long time – is necessary to achieve the climate goals.

The world is likely to go over 1.5 degrees warming in the near term, but CO2 removal can lower temperatures. Because it is currently virtually impossible for some emitters to reduce their emissions to zero, such as agriculture and aviation, the remaining emissions from such sectors must be offset by removing CO2 from the atmosphere in order for the Netherlands to become climate-neutral.

The WKR cautions that the even though CO2 removal is a required tool to prevent the worst case scenarios of climate change, it cannot come at the expense of reducing emissions. Responsible policy should focus on maximizing emissions reductions so that dependence on CO2 removal will remain limited.

Heleen de Coninck, deputy chair of the WKR and chair of the committee that prepared the advisory report, emphasizes the need to develop policy right now, both for maximum emission reduction and for CO2 removal:

“The government should ensure that in 25 years’ time the Dutch will not have to cough up tens of billions to remove our current excess emissions from the air again. Billions that cannot then be spent on housing, health or livelihood security.”

There is a distinction between temporary CO2 removal, where the carbon can be released again on a time scale of decades, and permanent CO2 removal, where the carbon is sequestered for at least centuries. The WKR believes that fossil emissions should only be offset with permanent, not temporary, CO2 removal. The WKR advises the Dutch government to focus policy only on permanent CO2 removal.

The WKR has issued this advice now so as to provide the newly sworn in cabinet with tools for good climate policy to achieve the climate goals of 2050. The WKR also emphasizes the urgency of making responsible choices now so that the billions in CO2 removal costs are not shifted to the future.

Read the full report and a summary (in Dutch) at the WKR website.

Graphic courtesy of WKR