Last updated:
May 24, 2024

Carbon Removal vs Carbon Avoidance

What is the Difference Between Carbon Removal and Avoidance?

There are some key differences between carbon removal and carbon avoidance that give each type of project distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Carbon removal directly removes existing CO2, which is essential for counteracting human impact on global emissions in the short run. On the other hand, carbon avoidance prevents future emissions, which helps to mitigate future impact.

Since carbon removal projects actively take CO2 and GHGs out of the atmosphere, they can be counted towards Net Zero goals. Contrastingly, avoidance projects cannot be counted towards Net Zero goals, since they don’t actively contribute towards removing excess CO2 and GHGs.

What is Carbon Removal?

Carbon removal involves strategies and methods that actively extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. This process is crucial in the fight against climate change and has been recognised by scientific bodies and frameworks like the IPCC and SBTi as essential for meeting Net Zero goals.

Benefits of Carbon Removal:

  • Direct Impact by physically removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Supported by scientific bodies as essential for achieving net zero emissions.
  • Provides a sustainable, long term solution for atmospheric CO2 reduction.

Downsides to Carbon Removal:

  • Tech-based removal projects don’t offer many co-benefits
  • Scaling these solutions to a meaningful level is a significant challenge.
  • Carbon removal projects can be quite expensive when using new technological solutions.

Common Types of Removal Projects:

  • Direct Air Capture and Storage
  • Reforestation and Afforestation
  • Biochar
  • Enhanced Rock Weathering

What is Carbon Avoidance?

Carbon avoidance involves actions that prevent the release of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, reducing future emissions.

Benefits of Carbon Avoidance

  • Immediate impact by reducing or preventing further emissions.
  • Diverse Solutions ranging from renewable energy projects to sustainable forestry.

Downsides to Carbon Avoidance

  • Critics have raised concerns around whether avoidance projects provide additional environmental benefits.
  • Avoidance projects cannot neutralise existing emissions, making them limited in achieving Net Zero targets.

Common Types of Avoidance Projects:

  • Renewable Energy (Wind, Solar, Hydro)
  • Sustainable Forestry Practices
  • Methane Capture Technologies
  • Conservation & Biodiversity
What is the difference between carbon removal and carbon reduction?

Considerations for Net Zero

  • Importance of Removals: Removals are essential for achieving Net Zero, as recognised by the SBTi, IPCC, and the Oxford Principles.
  • Balancing Strategies: A combination of both avoidance and removal strategies is crucial for a comprehensive approach to climate change.
  • Quality and Verification: Ensuring the integrity of both avoidance and removal projects is essential, focusing on the additionality and long-term effectiveness of these projects.
  • Support for Innovation: Continued investment in innovative removal technologies is key to advancing climate solutions.

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