Direct funding of air capture has raised environmental justice concerns, but there’s more to the story
The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was nothing short of historic for action against climate change in the United States. However, the perspectives of environmental justice groups on what was included, such as support for direct air capture, are now front and center.
On the one hand, many environmental justice advocates, who work to ensure healthy living environments, community participation, and equal protections for all, were alarmed to see funding for provisions that may prompt further investment in coal, oil and gas development. On the other hand, many also feel that they were was not given the opportunity to meaningfully shape the outcome of the new law, something that is clearly at odds with fairness in decision-making.
And then there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC), a carbon removal technology that removes carbon dioxide from ambient air and is backed by a recently reformed tax credit known as 45Q, thanks to the IRA. DAC is a flashpoint within the environmental justice community. It is sometimes perceived by environmental justice organizations as a “false solution” or a distraction from decarbonization that does not yet meet the needs of communities. I get it: there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that DAC can demonstrate not only the usual promised benefits of jobs and climate mitigation, but also tangible benefits within disadvantaged communities, such as long-term wealth creation. Building a direct air capture project in any community will inevitably intersect with other priorities like air and water quality and renewable energy deployment. The question is: how?
Additionally, many of us in the environmental justice movement fear that climate technologies could be co-opted or merged with fossil fuel companies to prevent meaningful action, tried and true greenwashing scheme for an industry with long history of human rights Y environmental violations. Industry heavyweights have become increasingly loud about investments in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), for example. Carbon capture prevents emissions from point sources before they are released into the atmosphere, thus “zeroing out” a company’s emissions and potentially maintaining its business model.
Direct air capture, however, is different but often confusing, partly due to the shared verbiage of these technologies. As a carbon removal technology, DAC can clean up the legacy CO2 already emitted into the atmosphere that drives climate impacts and injustice.
Today’s world is already uninhabitable for many, including my family, who have thrived in our homeland for generations. My family is from Somalia, a nation whose economy is based on agriculture. Keeping track of weather patterns and preparing for shifts was, and still is, an essential pillar of life. In the 2010s, Somalia experienced two consecutive years of severe drought, the worst in a generation. The resulting famine claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people, including some members of my family. There are countless communities around the world that are struck so they should be “once-in-a-generation” weather events, except now they happen every few years. Somalia is again facing a deadly drought and as many as 8 million people he could reportedly go hungry in April.
That’s why we need carbon removal, including DAC. To stop the worst effects of climate change, we will need to remove hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 that have been emitted over hundreds of years. It’s the reason I’ve dedicated my career to figuring out how to remove carbon, the right way. And it has not been an easy task. I have navigated pushback and skepticism from decarbonizing advocates and environmental justice leaders whom I deeply admire. But it feels too important to give up: The UN’s flagship climate report considered the need to decarbonize.”inevitable.” For now, DAC is a promising part of the portfolio and trying to figure out how it can work equitably and at scale seems critical.
But let me be clear: carbon removal cannot be an excuse for the world’s biggest emitters to continue business as usual. Nor should it hold back efforts to decarbonize rapidly. Carbon removal is in an impressionable stage of maturity as more players come to the table and now is the time to shape it in a way that can be a tool for climate justice, not continued fuel reliance. fossils.
I see a real opportunity for the US government to work with local leadership, environmental justice advocates, labor groups, project developers, and community organizations to build a strong regulatory and oversight framework, as well as to empower community oversight boards to implement protections. . One way to achieve this is through meaningful public participation, creating a space where groups feel heard and their contributions directly impact the results of a project. Equally important is changing our paradigm to go beyond damage prevention. Environmental justice asks us to actively improve lives by more equitably distributing resources and creating community benefits in every project.
None of this is to say that there isn’t a lot to like about the IRA. Several studies And analysis suggests that this is not only the largest single climate investment in history, but also a legislative package that can help put the US in a position where both the removal of legacy carbon and the reduction of emissions they are essential. Carbon removal is no longer a question of “do we need it?” but “how and where?” A just and lasting climate policy can redirect power to the most disadvantaged and create a more equitable and prosperous society, only with much less carbon in the atmosphere.
Ugbaad Kosar is the director of environmental justice at Carbon180, a climate-focused nonprofit working to fundamentally rethink carbon.