John Delaney's plan for Negative Emissions Technologies

To solve the climate crisis, we have to massively invest in negative emissions technology (NET).

Within the US, my carbon tax and dividend proposal will get us to 90% emissions reductions, but we need technology investment to get the other 10%. Fossil fuels produce 80% of the world’s energy and there are industries that will take time to switch to renewable energy such as air travel. We have to acknowledge the reality that we must transition off fossil fuels over time, not immediately eliminate fossil fuels. Making this transition harder is the tremendous population and economic growth occurring across Asia and Africa, which will only create more demand for energy.

While we must continue investment in renewable energy sources, which most mitigation efforts are centered around, we need to also invest in technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time. As the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report states:

“Removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it has exactly the same impact on the atmosphere and climate as simultaneously preventing an equal amount of CO2 from being emitted.”

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

We need to expand current NET practices, such as afforestation/reforestation, changes in forest management, uptake and storage by agricultural soils, and biomass energy with carbon capture and storage. But these practices are not enough by themselves. The technology with the most upside potential to close the gap is direct air capture technology which captures CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

Currently, direct air capture exists but it is prohibitively expensive to be widely deployed at $600/tCO2. Investing in direct air capture technology and other NET practices, such as carbon mineralization, will propel the U.S. to be the global leader in finding new ways to combat global warming and more importantly, we can use this technology around the globe for countries that will be slower to transition off fossil fuels than we are. In addition, it will be an economic benefit to the U.S. if our scientists and engineers produce this technology rather than another country leading the way.

I propose a new climate subsidy that would jump start the market for NET and bring down the cost the same way it did for wind and solar:

  1. I will end the approximately $5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies annually and use that funding to promote NET through a reverse auction program in which companies that can capture and store atmospheric carbon for the lowest cost get first access to government subsidies.
  2. As the cost of the carbon tax rises, the subsidy will decrease down to zero as the cost of carbon capture becomes cheaper than the carbon tax.
  3. Once costs come down, we can sell this technology around the world to help other countries do their part to solve this global problem.

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