Carbon Removal Trends & Policy: Interview With Carbon180’s Exec Director Erin Burns

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Since we last spoke to your President (Noah Deich), what has happened in policy and general sentiment in Carbon Removal?

Erin Burns, Carbon180’s executive director: There’ve been several milestone movements for the carbon removal field in the last 10 months. For one, the Department of Energy recently released the funding opportunity announcement for the Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program. Authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the program will build four DAC projects that will each capture a million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The program has the potential to scale DAC while lowering costs and setting standards around environmental justice and community engagement — positioning the US to lead on carbon removal.

Erin Burns
Erin Burns

Your readers will be familiar with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as a broader win for climate policy. Within that package was significant funding for both tech and land-based carbon removal solutions. The IRA transformed the 45Q tax credit. In the past, this tax credit wasn’t particularly effective for DAC developers and companies, given the technology’s relative maturity. The IRA increased total credit values to $180 per ton and made other changes that would improve accessibility. These changes have already sped up the deployment of direct air capture projects, such as the Project Bison plant in Wyoming.

We also saw dramatic increases to some of the core conservation programs run by the USDA, which increased funding to climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices — more than $20 billion in total. More broadly, we’ve seen a jump in private funding: Climeworks raised $650 million to build out their DAC technology, along with others such as 44.01 and CarbonCapture. Notably, Alphabet, Meta, McKinsey, Shopify, and Stripe launched Frontier, an advance market commitment for carbon removal worth $925 million, sending a demand signal to potential buyers and sellers.

What are the next big policy breakthroughs you can imagine happening?

Erin Burns: In the near term, the 2023 Farm Bill will be an opportunity to secure long-term policies that dramatically bolster the carbon sinks in our soil and forests — one that only comes once every five years. This is one of our first big opportunities to see carbon removal as a nexus for soil and forestry policy in the US. In the next several years, we will see greater efforts toward the federal procurement of carbon removal. Using many of the same policy levers and finance mechanisms that helped pioneer past climate solutions, the federal government can leverage private investments to boost innovation and quicken carbon removal deployment. In 2022, the bicameral Federal CDR Leadership Act was introduced, an early sign of Congressional support to directly purchase carbon removal.

What’s an overlooked piece in public or policy discussion you think people should pay some more attention to?

Erin Burns: Two things come to mind here. To start, environmental justice. Compared to other climate solutions, carbon removal as a field is still pretty young. We have an opportunity to grow an industry that centers the needs of both the climate and communities. This includes advocating for projects that have high-quality labor standards, uphold community benefits agreements, and center community voices. At Carbon180, our environmental justice program is founded on the belief that carbon removal must serve communities and can only succeed with their input and acceptance.

The second is monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). As the presence of private buyers like Frontier and the increased value of 45Q grow the market for carbon removal, companies will need to demonstrate that their technology provides real climate benefits with robust MRV. That includes accounting for all of the emissions, energy use, and environmental and public health impacts associated with a carbon removal project to determine its net climate impact. MRV is necessary to build trust and ensure projects are accountable to communities and taxpayers alike and should be an important part of 2023 for the field.

Where do you hope Carbon180 and CDR policy is in 3 years?

Erin Burns: Over the next three years, we need steel in the ground. We’re going to see the DAC hubs move forward and I hope they really center community co-benefits, public engagement, and considerations for environmental justice. As the program is stood up, state and federal agencies will need to quickly and rigorously permit first-of-its-kind infrastructure to make effective and expedient use of DAC Hubs program funding. This is going to require coordination and facilitation across a portfolio of other carbon management and clean energy programs which DOE is well-positioned to oversee.

I also expect policymakers will focus more on emerging and frontier solutions in the coming years. For one, the National Academies released their ocean carbon removal report, and there’s already bipartisan interest in both coastal and deep ocean pathways. Appropriators also began setting aside dedicated funding for mineralization, which can store carbon in a solid form underground or in durable materials like concrete. DAC, soils, and forests are essential, but they’re not the only solutions.

At Carbon180, we’re focused on growing our environmental justice program, prioritizing monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV), and preparing for the Farm Bill in the coming year. Oh, and we’re hiring!

What can or should our readers do, to support and engage with the work your organization is doing and pushing?

Erin Burns: You can follow us on Twitter @carbon_180 for real-time carbon removal policy updates or check out our federal policy tracker to see the latest on carbon removal legislation. Or subscribe to our policy newsletters.

About Carbon180

Carbon180 is a new breed of climate NGO on a mission to reverse two centuries of carbon emissions. The truth is, climate change can’t be fully addressed without removing legacy carbon from the atmosphere. Working closely with US policymakers, entrepreneurs, and peer organizations, we design policies that will bring necessary carbon removal solutions to gigaton scale. While many organizations focus on reducing emissions, we’re the only team in the US exclusively dedicated to bringing together the people, resources, and vision to build a carbon-removing world. Together, we can create a livable climate in which current and future generations can thrive.

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Benjamin Schulz

I'm investing in positive companies and am passionate about climate action and long-term human challenges. Early partner at BEAM (United People of Climate Action) and CleanTechnica (#1 cleantech-focused new & analysis website in the world), among others.

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