Why we need more “Yes, and” in carbon removal

This past January, I had the opportunity to

travel to Davos, where leaders from across the world gathered to discuss the largest economic challenges, including climate change. I attended events such as the Carbon Business Council Workshop where various experts in the carbon dioxide removal (CDR) industry gathered to exchange ideas and insights. I also spoke on SAP Global’s Art of Business panel to discuss the challenges and benefits to carbon removal and offset markets. Throughout the week, my colleague Daren McKelvey and I represented Nori and participated in meaningful discussions that opened up a dialogue between companies going about CDR in different ways.

It was an extremely active, and somewhat surreal week. It offered me a lot of perspective and time to reflect on what I’ve seen change and what we as a society need in order to continue driving progress for meaningful climate action and carbon removal at scale.

Here are some of my key takeaways:

TL;DR If there’s one thing we need, it’s a “yes, and” approach. This is the main theme that resonates through all of these takeaways. This "Yes, and" approach is crucial in our collective efforts to combat climate change.

When it comes to CDR, we need it all

There is a lot of talk in the CDR space about slow vs fast carbon, high vs low permanence, short-term vs long-term technologies, and scalability. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that we need all of these strategies. While there is an ideal goal of only focusing on high permanence, we also have to be realistic about what’s scalable with current technology and energy demands.

It’s tempting to throw your hat completely behind one of these approaches, but the fact is that they are all beneficial in uniquely different ways. Regenerative agriculture or reforesting, for instance, both have tremendous co-benefits– completely separate from their role in CDR– that contribute to nature’s well-being and resilience. On the CDR front, these methods are scalable and immediate, providing throughput in the goal of removing carbon dioxide. While they both rank low on permanence relative to some other methods, their immediacy of impact buys us time so that those other technologies can come into their own.

On the flip side, Direct Air Capture (DAC) is highly effective and has long-term permanence, but at present, it is not scalable to reversing-climate-change levels. While technology is ever-improving, we also need solutions that work right now. That is not to say that we should avoid methodologies such as DAC– on the contrary, we should be ever-improving these technologies, while at the same time removing as much carbon as we can right now.

No silver bullets

At Nori, we started with regenerative agriculture as a source for our carbon removals. We felt (and still feel!) like regenerative agriculture was a relatively immediate, effective way to remove carbon while also providing co-benefits to farmers and their communities. That being said, Nori is solution-agnostic in the fight against climate change. We focus on how to remove carbon now, while also developing future methodologies. Our thesis isn’t to do CDR in one perfect way– no such thing exists. We’re doing our part to remove carbon now, and incorporate a variety of solutions over time, so that we can make impacts quickly and steadily.

Ultimately, we can’t throw all our eggs into one basket. The landscape of CDR currently has so many different methodologies, all of which have pros and cons along the permanence, scalability, energy requirement and cost scale. But importantly, all of these ventures are striving toward the same thing– to reverse climate change. Just as a rising tide raises all ships, so we too should all be rooting for one another.

Education is key

One thing we all shared in common at Davos is the recognition that further education for carbon removals and offsets is needed. The average carbon removal and offset buyer rarely understands much of the nuance of the market or the nature of carbon sequestration. Increased CDR literacy amongst buyers is an area that can help all CDR companies, and one that definitely deserves more attention. At Nori, we try to address this with our podcasts— Carbon Removal Newsroom and Reversing Climate Change — and various other outlets, but focusing more on providing simple, evergreen content for prospective buyers is also much needed.

Learning mindset: Accepting mistakes and growing from them

The CDR industry is so incredibly new that we are constantly learning as we go. It may be tempting to look back at what was happening ten years ago with eye rolls, but the fact is that ten years ago and today is night and day in terms of CDR technology, scholarship and policy. By the same token, we certainly haven’t got all the answers today, and in ten years we may look back on so many things we’re doing now and wonder how we didn’t see our mistakes sooner.

Accepting this reality is really important. We have to give ourselves the grace to be wrong so that we can bounce back and correct those mistakes. We need to hold ourselves not to a standard of perfection, but to a standard of continual improvement.

“Yes, and”

Since Davos, I’ve been embracing the mindset of “Yes, and.” Yes, we should be planting more trees and investing in DAC. Yes, we should be exploring ocean-based CDR methodologies and rewarding farmers for regenerative practices that increase yield while sequestering carbon. Yes, we should focus on new high-permanence technologies and sequester as much carbon as we possibly can right now. Yes, we can all work on our own paths to address climate change and cooperate with a shared goal in mind. By doing all these things together and cooperatively we will have a shot at reversing climate change.

The field of CDR is full of highly motivated, inventive and intelligent people doing their best to help mitigate climate change. We’re all holding different pieces of a puzzle. A “yes, and” approach is how that puzzle is going to get solved.

carbon business council davos group.jpeg

The Carbon Business Council Workshop group in Davos, January 2023

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Takeaways from climate conversations in Davos

Written by Alexsandra Guerra, Co-Founder and Head of Demand at Nori