The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines negative emissions as the “removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere by deliberate human activities, i.e., in addition to the removal that would occur via natural carbon cycle processes.”
While mitigating or reducing emissions is a necessary measure to combat global climate change, it is widely recognized in the scientific community that the goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved by emissions reductions alone. Large quantities of CO2 have already accumulated in the atmosphere. Further, it is expected that even in highly climate-friendly societies and economic systems, residual emissions will remain unavoidable. Thus, to achieve climate neutrality, it is essential to offset the remaining emissions into the atmosphere with negative emissions – an approach that aims to achieve “net-zero emissions.” However, it is crucial to note that removing CO2 from the atmosphere cannot replace or delay the rapid reduction of emissions sources, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
Removing greenhouse gases, especially CO2, can occur through both artificial and natural means. In the AFOLU sector, natural CO2 sequestration occurs through the preservation and expansion of natural carbon sinks, particularly forests and wetlands. While research into artificial greenhouse gas removal has been ongoing for decades, existing methods are energy and cost-intensive, and their perspectives for scalability remain debatable.
There are countries that do currently remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit, making them CO2-negative. Some of them have achieved this through the preservation of extensive forested areas, for example Bhutan with 71 percent forest coverage, Suriname with 97 percent, and Panama with 57 percent. Other countries have started using their surpluses to sell “carbon credits” to CO2-positive countries, which is a controversial practice for reducing their overall emissions.