Removing Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere May be a Risky Business

First Posted: Feb 11, 2016 09:18 AM EST

Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may be a risky business. Scientists have found that radical ways of removing this greenhouse gas have the potential of doing more harm than good.

Techniques put forward to remove carbon dioxide include growing crops to be burned in power stations, large-scale tree plantations, adding biochar to soil, adding nutrients to sea water to boost plankton and seaweed, and using chemicals to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.

"In Paris, the world leaders agreed to limit the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels to well below 2oC-and preferably below 1.5oC," said Phil Williamson, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But unless a lot more effort is made to cut carbon emissions, by the UK and other countries, we will have to work out how to safely remove very large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The aim is to have a balanced global carbon budget. For that to work, from now on we have to think of matching the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere with their subsequent removal."

Removal, however, could be tricky. Large CO2 removal will have knock-on effects for ecosystems and biodiversity. There could be benefits, of course, but damage sees more likely.

"For example, the amount of bioenergy crops we would need to grow could use up to 580 million hectares of land-or half of the land area of the U.S.," said Williamson. "This would in turn accelerate the loss of forests and natural grasslands with impacts for wildlife, whilst also having implications for food security."

The latest report shows that CO2 removal is necessary, but that there could be severe consequences. This is particularly important to note when deciding upon a plan to take CO2 from the atmosphere.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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