How much did lockdowns reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
As it turns out… not much.
Near the end of 2020, the World Meteorological Organization released their assessment of the impact of Covid-related restrictions on world greenhouse gas emissions. They found that for the year, emissions were down only 5%-7%—hardly more than normal variability. This means concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to increase, albeit slightly slower than they would have without Covid.
This accidental worldwide experiment has serious implications. The Earth hasn’t seen CO2 levels as high as our current 410PPM for 3-5 million years, which pushed sea levels 10-20 meters higher than they are now. Once all that heat reaches equilibrium, say goodbye to Florida. And taking all those cars off the road didn’t put a dent in our rate of increase.
Also, the IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5°C, concludes that “All analysed pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot use CDR [Carbon Dioxide Removal ] to some extent.”
This means that even if all the countries actually meet their commitments on CO2 reduction, we’d still need negative carbon projects to keep the world at the 1.5°C limit. Obviously, it’s far more efficient to not put the CO2 in the atmosphere in the first place, but that’s not enough. We need to get negative: take existing carbon out of the air.
There are two broad approaches to carbon removal: nature based and technology based. You can think of the Plant a Billion Trees initiative as a fully nature-based approach. The idea is to reforest every conceivable place on the planet, and let the trees transform the CO2 in the air into wood.
At the other extreme is direct air capture (DAC)—a fully technology-based approach. Basically, huge machines suck air in and scrub the CO2 out, like those built by Climeworks and others.
While exploring this space at Spero Ventures, we’ve discovered many companies with technologies that lie somewhere in between:
- PlanetFwd’s snacks support regenerative agriculture that revitalizes topsoil and captures carbon.
- DroneSeed, a Spero portfolio company, uses fleets of drones to rapidly re-seed burned forests to dramatically speed up carbon capture after a wildfire.
- SilviaTerra combines advanced imaging technology to quantify and verify forest carbon projects.
- Opus 12 converts CO2 sources into higher-value chemicals and plastics, providing either carbon neutral or carbon negative solutions depending on the product.
These are just a few examples. For these companies, one exciting development is the growing market demand for verifiable carbon offsets themselves, no matter how the carbon is captured. This demand is coming from companies large and small that have committed to reducing or eliminating their carbon footprints. For example, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030. Governments and individuals, too, are taking more initiative toward a carbon-neutral lifestyle. These trends provide a tailwind for these pioneering companies that has the potential to lead to fantastic growth, and this is one industrial area where truly everyone benefits from their success.