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Why Carbon removals are an essential component in sustainability strategies

Net zero targets need direct action and diverse solutions. Here’s why carbon dioxide removals need to be in the action plan for your organisation’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals.

Arable farm with sunset

In 2022, total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reached 58 billion tonnes. That’s the highest annual level ever recorded.

Assuming that current economic growth, population growth, and emissions intensity trends carry on along their current trajectories, emissions will continue to grow. It’s estimated that by 2030, they’ll hit 62 billion tonnes a year.

We’ve managed to slow down the rate at which emissions are growing. But we’re nowhere near reaching the Paris Agreement goals. And there’s still no credible pathway in sight to keeping temperature increases down to 1.5°C. Researchers say there's now a 66% chance we’ll pass this 1.5°C global warming threshold between now and 2027.

But it’s not too late to take action.

We’re committed to taking positive action to reduce emissions worldwide. At Drax, we’re taking this one step further by adopting Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology to remove emissions.

Your organisation’s sustainability strategy needs more than one method to remove hard-to-abate emissions. But for forward-thinking businesses, Carbon Dioxide Removals (CDRs) are a way of proactively contributing towards our planet’s progress.

Let me explain why.

The Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) have been clear that the need for carbon dioxide removals are essential. Simply reducing carbon emissions isn’t enough -– we also have to deploy CDR technology.

To achieve a positive outcome for the climate, 10 billion tonnes of CO2 need to be captured by negative emissions technology every year between now and 2050.

At Drax, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of pounds, and years of energy, passion and expertise, to develop BECCS.

BECCS is currently the only carbon capture and storage technology that also generates renewable electricity. It removes carbon dioxide from the biosphere, and locks it away safely and permanently, in natural geological formations, for tens of thousands of years.

Most importantly, for organisations looking to net their emissions, we’re able to pass on high standard, high-quality carbon removals. CDRs from BECCS are measurable, sustainable, and permanent, with a very low risk of reversal.

Some of the world’s largest companies have already switched on to the value BECCS provides, with landmark deals from companies such as Respira and Microsoft. We hope this will continue to stimulate the market.

It's an incredible tool. And it’s one of many that we need to build a brighter future for our future generations. Because to succeed, we need to bring together every possible approach to play its part in our shared mission.

Alongside developing CDR technology, we must take action to reduce and avoid all the emissions we can.

A good ESG strategy will include:

1. Committing to long-term net-zero strategies, including high quality carbon removals. This’ll involve reducing all the emissions that we produce ourselves or that come from our own energy use (Scope 1 and 2). We need to do what we can to decarbonise – buying renewable power through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (CPPAs), installing solar PV, wind turbines or batteries and electrifying our fleets.

2. Cleaning up our own entire supply or value chains. We need to set suppliers and partners science-based targets (or encourage them to set them for themselves) to reduce all the emissions they can (Scope 3). We need to use our leverage to ensure that they commit just as our own organisations have.

The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) corporate net-zero standard outlines the dimensions of a net-zero emissions pathway for those companies that establish long-term targets aligned with a global warming scenario of 1.5°C. This focuses on reducing value chain (Scope 1, 2 and 3) emissions by at least 90% to residual levels (maximum of 10% of baseline emissions) by 2050 or sooner. We need to adopt those standards ourselves and ensure that our partners and suppliers do too.

3. Alongside these, we need to add carbon removals to reduce the final emissions that are unavoidable and help pay off our carbon debt. There are four things to consider in your early carbon removals research:

  • The longevity of the carbon removal – is it stored temporarily, or permanently?
  • The sustainability of the technology that produces it
  • The quantification (is it measured and accurate?)
  • Whether it has additionality – that is, does it provide additional benefit to the climate that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise?

Acting now is an investment in our future

The most optimistic projections say that demand for carbon dioxide removals will exceed supply in the market by 2030. Some estimates put the demand for CDRs to outstrip supply by approximately 3.5x by 2030.

Forward-thinking businesses are locking in carbon removals now. This doesn’t just secure their needs – it helps to stimulate the market by supporting a technology that needs to be quickly scaled up to meet our collective goals.

How we plan to become a carbon negative company, and help others do the same

At Drax, we’ve committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030. By 2030, we aim to have converted two of our units at Drax Power Station to run with BECCS, which will remove eight million tonnes of CO2 in the UK year on year.

This alone would deliver over 15% of the carbon removals the UK requires to achieve net zero by 2050, according to figures provided by the CCC in their 2019 Net Zero Report.

With the right government engagement, we plan to invest billions over the coming years in carbon removals and renewable energy projects. We aim to capture 12 million metric tonnes a year of carbon removals by 2030 globally and to be a global leader in carbon removal projects.

Our ambition of becoming carbon negative by 2030 means we’re always working to reduce our supply chain emissions as far as possible. And we’ll use carbon removals delivered through BECCS to neutralise our remaining emissions.

Many other organisations will have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by around the same date. By that time, they’ll already have reduced all the emissions they can themselves. They’ll also have encouraged their partners to reduce their emissions too. But in order to achieve net neutrality, they will also have to remove their hard-to-abate emissions.

Organisations that want to do that by 2030 will have to start thinking about how they do it much earlier than that. Businesses and other institutions are well placed to play a role in helping this sector grow, but we need to start now to ensure that it has reached maturity by 2030. Which means the time to act is now.

Drax can help you navigate the road to a more sustainable future, reduce carbon emissions and support your commercial goals too.

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