To accomplish their climate goals, many countries are betting on ambient carbon dioxide removal (CDR) more than emissions reductions. Reliance on developing technologies that have not been brought to scale is almost certain to face further scrutiny in the courtroom. As discussed by the European Journal of International Law in a recent blog post:
“There are a host of concerns about large-scale reliance on CDR. At their core is the view that governments and companies appear to be relying on a scale of removal (and storage) that is far beyond the physical limits of any currently available techniques – creating a high risk of future non-deployment, as well as significant implications for human rights and ecological integrity.”
If CDR is off the table for governments, then companies that are relying on it will also likely have to find alternative avenues to net-zero. Companies like Occidental (which is investing in carbon removal infrastructure in Texas) would face direct consequences if courts ruled that their government clients could not rely as heavily on their services. Without government funding (like the US government grant obtained by Occidental), it is unlikely that carbon removal technologies can be brought to scale. That would also impact corporate CDR clientele like Amazon who announced a 10-year carbon removal credit purchase agreement with Occidental.
The impacts would also extend to other high emitting sectors. If a court rules that a government cannot rely on carbon removals, the focus would then be on emissions reduction. This would result in further regulation and scrutiny of heavy emitting sectors which would ripple out to the wider economy. For example, if a country were ordered to scale back on fossil fuels subsidies or commercial aviation, this would create considerable impacts for the economy at large. The outcome of litigation may either supercharge CDR technology development or be its death knell.
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