Assessing Mitigation Deterrence effects of Greenhouse Gas Removal Techniques (AMDEG)

In this project from 2017-2020 - alongside Nils Markusson, David Tyfield, Rebecca Willis, Bron Szerszynski and Andy Jarvis in the Lancaster Environment Centre - I explored and quantified the various ways in which promises of carbon removal might be creating false hope or exacerbating climate procrastination. We highlighted ways in which the technologies involved could be properly supported as a supplement to essential accelerated emissions cuts.

Greenhouse gas removal (GGR) techniques (also known as carbon dioxide removal (CDR) or negative emissions techniques (NETs)) have the potential to help counter global warming by lowering the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They might therefore be needed alongside mitigation approaches that help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in the first place. However, the different approaches interact, and GGRs might delay or deter mitigation in various ways. Even doing research about GGRs, even just talking about their potential, could have such a deterrence effect. In this way, effectively combining GGRs and mitigation may be more difficult than often assumed.

And this matters, because current climate policy targets – necessary if we are to avoid dangerous climate change – are based on scenarios that rely on the promise of GGR technologies becoming available and being deployed at large scale. They also rely on the (implicit) assumption that there will not be a substantive mitigation deterrence effect. This project examined the likelihood and significance of any such effects, to learn more about how they might work, how serious they might become, and what could be done to counter them.

Through expert elicitation and stakeholder deliberation we developed and explored multiple scenarios of mitigation deterrence. Many of them have already been observed in the real world in the years since we began this work.

AMDEG Publications & Media

Taking deliberative research online: Lessons from four case studies. R. Willis, A. Yuille, P. Bryant, D. McLaren & N. Markusson, Forthcoming in Qualitative Research.

Life in the Hole: Practices and emotions in the cultural political economy of mitigation deterrence. N. Markusson, D. McLaren, D. Tyfield, B. Szerszynski & R. Willis. Forthcoming in European Journal of Futures Research.

Attractions of Delay: Using deliberative engagement to investigate the political and strategic impacts of greenhouse gas removal technologies. D. McLaren, R. Willis, D. Tyfield, B. Szerszynski & N. Markusson. Environment and Planning E: Society and Space (2021). 

‘It would be irresponsible, unethical and unlawful to rely on NETs at large scale instead of mitigation’. D. McLaren and W. Burns, Chapter 18 in Debating Climate Law (eds Mayer and Zahar, 2021), Cambridge University Press.

Navigating Potential Hype and Opportunity in Governing Marine Carbon Removal. M. Boettcher, K. Brent, H. J. Buck, S. Low, D. McLaren and N. Mengis. Frontiers in Climate 3(47) (2021).

Social Science Sequestered. N. Markusson, N. Balta-Ozkan, J. Chilvers, P. Healey, D. Reiner and D. McLaren. Frontiers in Climate 2(2) (2020).

Quantifying the potential scale of mitigation deterrence from greenhouse gas removal techniques. Climatic Change 162 (2020).

The co-evolution of technological promises, modelling, policies and climate change targets. D. McLaren, and N. Markusson, Nature Climate Change 10 (2020). 

Beyond “Net-Zero”: A Case for Separate Targets for Emissions Reduction and Negative Emissions. D. McLaren, D. Tyfield, R. Willis, B. Szerszynski, and N. Markusson. Frontiers in Climate (2019).

Towards a cultural political economy of mitigation deterrence by negative emissions technologies (NETs). N. Markusson, D. McLaren and D. Tyfield.Global Sustainability (2018) 1, e10.

Opinion and podcasts

A Case for Separate Emissions Reduction and Negative Emissions, Carbon Removal Newsroom podcast

Trees: one way to tackle climate change?, Shell, The Energy Podcast

How the pernicious promises of imaginary carbon removal harm essential climate action, AMDEG blog

Exaggerating how much CO2 can be absorbed by tree planting risks deterring crucial climate action, The Conversation

When essential research might be a bad thing. The carbon removal research dilemma, Nils Markusson and Duncan McLaren, FCEA blog

The problem with net-zero emissions targets, Carbon Brief guest post

A brief history of climate targets and technological promises, Carbon Brief guest post

Carbon Removal: The dangers of mitigation deterrence, Carnegie Climate Governance (C2G) guest post

AMDEG was supported by grant NE/PO19838/1 from the programme Greenhouse Gas Removal from the Atmosphere, funded by NERC, EPSRC, ESRC, BEIS, Met Office & STFC in the UK.