Charity Reports

Carbon180

2020-10-07
Written by
Johannes Ackva
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Carbon180 is a US-based environmental NGO that champions carbon removal solutions — a critical but largely neglected piece of the climate puzzle — through policy advocacy, business engagement, and innovation support.

If you are interested in co-funding a portfolio of impactful climate organisations like this one, see our Climate Fund.

What problem are they trying to solve?

Carbon180 works to limit climate change by facilitating a broad portfolio of carbon removal approaches (also known as negative emissions technologies) through policy advocacy, business engagement, and innovation support. Currently focused on the United States, their mission is to transform our relationship with carbon — flipping it 180 degrees — to create a world that removes more carbon than it emits.

Carbon removal covers a wide range of approaches, from natural solutions such as restoring degraded forests, planting trees in previously unforested areas (afforestation), and changing our agricultural practices to those that store carbon in soils. It also includes technological interventions, such as enhanced weathering and biochar, and high-tech approaches like direct air capture. For further information on negative emissions, click here. For a more in-depth scientific summary, click here.

A key problem we face is that most energy scenarios consistent with limiting global warming to 2°C assume that we will deploy carbon removal technologies on a vast scale in the coming decades (as shown by the blue line in the graph below). But the reality is that these technologies have received relatively little attention to date.
Negative emissions
Source: Fuss et al. ‘Negative emissions—Part 2: Costs, potentials and side effectsEnvironmental Research Letters (2018)

What do they do?

Carbon180 champions carbon removal through a combination of policy advocacy, business engagement, and innovation support. All of these solutions are focused on improving the carbon removal ecosystem, making it easier for carbon removal approaches to achieve maturity and scale.

Why do we recommend them?

  • Carbon removal is a key piece of the climate puzzle but it does not yet receive sufficient attention.
  • Carbon180 is a successful environmental NGO trying to tackle this issue through policy advocacy, business engagement, and innovation support.
  • We think they could productively absorb additional funds to increase support for carbon removal solutions at a critical time, as stimulus-focused climate policy can create huge positive leverage for carbon removal technologies.

This recommendation exemplifies our strategy of funding advocacy for solutions that are of critical importance but comparatively neglected.

Why is carbon removal important?

As illustrated above, the scientific consensus is abundantly clear that carbon removal will be needed, at gigatonne scale, if we are to meet ambitious targets such as limiting warming to 2°C. If we fail to meet those targets, which is likely, having the potential of carbon removal realised could become even more important. This is because reducing warming by 0.5°C through carbon removal would be even more valuable in warmer worlds — climate damage disproportionately increases as the climate heats up, so reducing warming from 4°C to 3.5°C is likely to be more valuable than reducing it from 2°C to 1.5°C.1

Importantly, while carbon removal (negative emissions) already plays an important role in idealised scenarios — which assume that rapid emissions reductions start soon and are sustained for decades — in the real world, where our collective response to reducing emissions globally remains weak, carbon removal could be even more important as a safeguard against this delayed action.

How neglected is carbon removal?

Despite being essential for meeting ambitious climate targets, policy support for carbon removal so far has been limited. This is recognised by a recent report titled Energizing America, which contains recommendations for future climate/energy innovation policy in the United States. Carbon removal came out on top as the technology group in need of the biggest budget increase, with a suggested 200% increase in RD&D budget.2 Right now, all carbon removal technologies together receive less than $100 million each year in RD&D support3 in the United States, which is by far the largest player in climate/energy innovation.4

Why is carbon removal relatively neglected?

  • Relative novelty: Compared to other solutions, the scale at which negative emissions/carbon removal will be needed has only become widely recognised in the last decade.
  • Seemingly far away: Deployment of negative emissions technologies seems far away despite scenarios compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement suggesting we must implement these technologies in the 2030s and scale them quickly.
  • Lack of tangible benefits outside climate: The primary benefit of carbon removal technologies is their mitigation potential; they do not provide energy or other benefits.

These are just some of the reasons why we think it is likely that carbon removal is systematically neglected compared to its potential which, we believe, makes it an important area for impact-driven philanthropists to focus on.

Cost-effectiveness of advocacy and prior successes

Carbon180’s policy advocacy works primarily by integrating carbon removal in broader climate bills as well as within the federal budget, ensuring that those policies and budgetary priorities better support carbon removal. During this process, they regularly brief Congressional staffers and provide expert input on legislation in its early stages. While it is very difficult to evaluate the precise cost-effectiveness of such work, we believe that it is highly impactful and cost-effective.

For example, on a cumulative budget of less than $500,000 for these projects, Carbon180 has (a) influenced the increase in carbon removal R&D to $68 million in 2020, (b) lobbied successfully to include direct air capture in 45Q (a tax credit to support carbon capture), (c) lobbied for a $250 per tonne of CO2 incentive for direct air capture through inclusion in California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and (d) helped raise funds for a National Academy of Sciences on carbon removal.

Even if Carbon 180 made all of these results more likely by only a small fraction, Carbon180 would still be extraordinarily cost-effective.

Ultimate benefits

Broadly speaking, we think of the end product of Carbon180’s work — which can be the work of companies able to boost carbon removal due to a strengthened carbon removal policy — as having two primary benefits:

1) Moving carbon removal solutions ahead in time and reducing cost to increase uptake. The primary goal of our support for Carbon180 is the faster, cheaper, and larger availability of carbon removal solutions. This will increase uptake of carbon removal and thereby reduce climate damage compared to the counterfactual scenario with less support for Carbon180.

Because of the (a) outsized importance of government support for early technologies/approaches, (b) the relatively technical and non-politicised nature of carbon removal advocacy, and its (c) neglect in wider climate policy conversations, we believe it is plausible to think that Carbon180’s work could have a significant impact on the cost and scalability trajectory of important carbon removal solutions, such as soil carbon sequestration, direct air capture, and enhanced weathering.

This work also provides a robust complement to our other recommendations that focus on accelerating the decarbonisation of the global energy system.

2) Value of information. The carbon removal space is full of ideas that could be scalable and cost-effective to varying degrees — with the uncertainty often being so large that our ignorance would allow both highly optimistic and highly pessimistic judgments on their feasibility. Crucially, knowing as early as possible what works and what doesn’t is of great importance to allocate resources well and avoid unwanted surprises.

In the case of carbon removal/negative emissions, where climate policy relies on the massive deployment of these technologies, knowing more precisely which approaches will be scalable and have high potential will be of particular importance.

Why do we trust this organisation?

Carbon180 is led by its co-founders, Noah Deich (Executive Director) and Giana Amador (Managing Director), both of whom have worked in the climate space before founding Carbon180 (originally known as the “Center for Carbon Removal”) in 2015. When the organisation was founded, these solutions were already a large part of scenario literature but not reflected in policy discussions. Their focus on fixing blindspots, together with a strong commitment to adapt — including a rebrand and a move to DC to better focus on policy advocacy — reveal a strong commitment to impact.

We have also found Carbon180 to be a highly strategic organisation with a clear and proven theory of impact, strategic focus, and strong internal organisation. Carbon180’s approach has also been praised by other trusted charity leaders and experts.

This makes us confident that Carbon180 is well-positioned to continue driving policy change through effective advocacy.

What would they do with more funding?

Below are some projects that could be pursued at different increments:

  • $10,000: development of carbon removal fact sheets and infographics for policy and business audiences, i.e. resources to better communicate the importance of carbon removal to key stakeholders.
  • $100,000: supporting policy fellows to work on ocean carbon removal, soil carbon, and CO2 mineralisation, increasing Carbon180’s ability to inform and influence federal carbon removal policy.
  • $500,000: supporting the next cohort of the Entrepreneur in Residence fellowship, supporting innovation in carbon removal, opening the Carbon180 state policy office in Sacramento to inform and influence policy in the most important US state for climate action (California).

These should be taken as indicative, giving an idea of how Carbon180 would spend additional resources.

Message from the organisation

“We're the only climate NGO with a team of people that wakes up every day and thinks about how we can build a carbon-removing economy of the future as quickly as is needed for meeting climate goals. We think there is a window for policy change opening in DC (clearly bigger if Biden wins, but definitely still there with the current Administration), and we want to make sure that we're positioned to propose and advocate for the best policies (i.e. science-driven, rooted in equity and justice, and grounded in real-world experience of solution developers and investors) when the time comes.” (Noah Deich, Executive Director Carbon180)

More resources

Carbon180 curates a blog here and has a weekly newsletter here, which together provide an accessible introduction to the carbon removal space, as well updates on policy developments and Carbon180’s activities.

Disclaimer: We do not have a reciprocal relationship with any charity, and recommendations are subject to change based on our ongoing research.

Notes


  1. This is a point about comparing worlds where carbon removal is available compared to where it is not, not about cooling the planet by 0.5 degrees after the warming has materialised. 
  2. See page 7 (Figure ES-3) of the report. 

  3. Ibid, page. 71-72 
  4. See, for example: http://mission-innovation.net/  

Johannes Ackva

Author

Johannes has dedicated much of his adult life to this topic. From a teenage environmental activist to a climate policy expert advising major EU decision makers, Johannes is committed to solving the problem of global energy poverty, while simultaneously reaching net-zero emissions and protecting our planet.

Prior to joining Founder Pledge, Johannes spent five years working in a think tank advising decision makers on climate policy, and conducting academic research into the intersection between effective and feasible climate policies.