UN ignores carbon removal

Last week, UN Secretary-General Gutierrez delivered a major speech on climate change that was utterly stunning for its vacuous failure to engage on key issues in climate science, by completely leaving out any mention of Carbon Dioxide Removal.

While the IPCC recognises that removing carbon from the air is essential to stabilise the climate, the Secretary-General apparently has not heard this new science, since he completely failed to mention it in his 3200 words of fatuous pieties, except in an oblique reference to net zero emissions. The impression created by this failure is that the United Nations has been corrupted by vested interests in renewable energy, leading it to accept the false moral hazard argument that carbon removal undermines emission reduction.

It appears Gutierrez is signalling that the UN has made the political decision to ignore any suggestion that carbon removal is the key security agenda for climate stability and restoration. This is a highly disturbing and dangerous situation, since carbon removal can achieve far more than emission reduction in preventing warming.

Gutierrez presents the political war on fossil fuels as the only climate strategy acceptable to the UN, along with rather forlorn efforts to raise a hundred billion dollars in alms for the poor. Sec Gutierrez says “The mountain in front of us is very high. But it is not insurmountable. We know how to scale it. Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action. We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm. We need to embrace the circular economy and resource efficiency. Our cities and transport sectors will need to be overhauled. How we heat, cool and light our buildings will need to be rethought so we waste less energy. And this is exactly where this conversation can become exciting.”

No, this is not where the conversation becomes exciting. These established strategies miss the central point that addressing climate change requires investment in the lowest cost scalable methods to abate CO2. The scientific message that the UN should be promoting is that preventing dangerous warming requires carbon removal. It is completely astounding that such a major element of climate politics can be so comprehensively ignored by the UN, even in a speech devoted to raising alarm about the dangers of inaction.

Gutierrez rubs salt in the wounds by hypocritically saying “we will have to muster the full force of human ingenuity,” while failing to mention the primary area requiring ingenuity, carbon removal, and then repeating the nonsense that “net-zero emissions by mid-century” is an adequate target, ignoring that embedded warming means negative net emissions are crucial.

Finally, we see the nostrum that “it is important to note that, because carbon dioxide is long-lasting in the atmosphere, the climate changes we are already seeing will persist for decades to come.” It might help if the Secretary-General recognised that a primary research focus should be to reduce this problem through carbon dioxide removal.

Sadly, this speech will be a major factor in setting the tone for investment priorities in climate response, making it far harder to get engagement on the critical needs. This speech is a political and scientific disgrace, setting the stage for global failure to stop the many dangers of climate change that Gutierrez lists. The diplomats and sycophants will admire the emperor’s new clothes, but the UN policy framework on climate change is bereft of strategic vision.

Robert Tulip

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