NETs (Negative Emissions Technology)

Refers to technologies or processes that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to offset or reverse emissions. Instead of making essential emissions reductions, relying solely on such technologies to decarbonise comes with several key issues and challenges:-

  • Technological Readiness and Scalability: Many NETs are still in the experimental or early stages of development. Scaling them up to the level required for offsetting emissions would demand significant investments and time. This delay in implementation would hinder urgent climate action.

  • Resource Requirements: Several NETs rely on substantial amounts of land, water, energy, and other resources. Large-scale deployment of these technologies would compete with other land uses (e.g., agriculture, conservation) and exacerbate resource scarcity issues.

  • Risk of Lock-In: Relying heavily on NETs would lead to a "carbon lock-in" situation, where continued reliance on fossil fuels is justified based on the assumption that NETs will eventually compensate for emissions. This would delay the necessary transition to truly sustainable energy sources and technologies.

  • Ethical and Environmental Concerns: Some NETs involve activities like large-scale afforestation (planting trees) or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). These activities would lead to land use changes, deforestation, or other environmental and social issues.

  • Carbon Neutrality Illusion: Depending solely on NETs would create a false sense of achieving carbon neutrality. If not balanced with actual emission reduction efforts, such as transitioning to cleaner technologies or reducing emissions, relying on NETs would perpetuate high emissions from hard to abate sectors like aviation.

  • Unproven Technologies: Some of the most ambitious NETs, such as direct air capture (DAC), have not been deployed at the necessary scale to demonstrate their effectiveness and viability in real-world scenarios.

  • Economic Viability: Developing and implementing NETs requires significant financial investment. There might be economic challenges in financing these technologies, especially as they are viewed as expensive compared to other emission reduction strategies.

  • Regulatory and Policy Complexities: Implementing NETs on a large scale would require clear regulations and policies to ensure their effectiveness, proper accounting of emissions and avoidance of unintended consequences. Developing and enforcing these policies would be challenging and time-consuming and probably repeat the failure to do so with offsetting and Nature Based/Natural Climate Solution (NBS/NCS) schemes.

  • Carbon Leakage: If one region heavily relies on NETs while others actively reduce emissions through direct means, there is a risk of carbon leakage. This occurs when emissions are effectively transferred from one region to another without an overall reduction in global emissions.

  • Unpredictable Outcomes: The long-term effectiveness of some NETs remains uncertain and there is a probability that they won't deliver the expected levels of negative emissions. Relying on unproven technologies would lead to disappointment and missed climate targets.

While negative emissions technologies may need to play a role, they should be viewed as complements to direct emission reduction efforts rather than a primary solution. (Climate change: Invest in technology that removes CO2 - report - )


The fossil fuel industry is particularly attracted to DAC because the captured CO2 can be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), which means more fossil fuels can be extracted and more CO2 emitted! . However DAC requires almost as much energy as contained in the fossil fuels that produced the CO2 in the first place, according to this analysis - "At best, using current technology, the world would need almost double the annual global electricity production to suck all our carbon emissions from the air. No-one is suggesting that the world should capture all its greenhouse gas emissions using DAC, but the amount of energy required does raise questions about whether the technology makes any sense. After all, the world needs to rapidly decarbonise its existing energy usage - not add to the load required." 

All forms of DAC are extremely energy- and cost-intensive. ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation (2020) say - The entire capture process for one tonne of CO2 requires between 5 to 10 GJ of electrical and/or thermal energy. Cost estimates for DAC range from US$ ~100 to US$ ~1,000 per tonne but lower costs for DAC have only been proven theoretically. (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2019) Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 510 pages, ISBN 978-0-309-48452-7,; Gambhir & Tavoni (2019) Direct Air Carbon Capture and Sequestration: How It Works and How It Could Contribute to Climate-Change Mitigation, in: One Earth, Vol. 1(4): 405-409 )

To have any significant effect on global CO2 concentrations, DAC would need to be rolled out on a vast scale, raising serious questions about the large amount of energy it requires, the levels of water usage for some technologies, land usage and the toxicity impacts from the disposal of the chemical sorbents used. In addition, safe and long-term CO2 storage cannot be guaranteed. ( Nisbet (2019) THE CARBON REMOVAL DEBATE. Asking Critical Questions About Climate Change Futures, Carbon Removal Briefing No. 2, Institute for Carbon Law Removal and Policy, American University, 24 pages, ; Fuss, et al. (2018) Negative emissions-Part 2: Costs, potentials and side effects, in: Environmental Research Letters, Vol 13(6): 063002, ).

DAC results in a continued dependence on fossil fuels - for example, a leading developer (Carbon Engineering) plans to burn fossil gas to power their DACCS process ( ) and Occidental already uses captured CO2 for ‘enhanced oil recovery’ (  ) - "Occidental has indicated that CO2 captured from its Permian Basin DAC plant could be used to drill for more oil through a process it has long used known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). In its latest annual report, the company stated that its CO2 EOR operations “are critical to Occidental’s long-term strategy.” & Occidental CEO Vicky Hollub has said that because of DAC, “we don’t need to ever stop oil,” and that the technology gives the fossil fuel industry “a license to continue to operate.” ( - What the Fossil Fuel Industry Doesn't Want You To Know | Al Gore | TED ).

Subsidising NETs would not only incentivise continued extraction of fossil fuels with a greenwash smokescreen but also make large new CO2 volumes available and affordable that would allow the Oil & Gas industry to recover huge quantities of oil and gas from declining fields via EOR or EGR (Enhanced Oil/Gas Recovery) that would otherwise remain underground. Any taxpayer money would incentivise continued extraction and emitting of carbon for as long as possible. The fact that the Oil & Gas industry is mostly benefiting from government contracts and spending on carbon capture projects, means that they have a perverse incentive to maximise pollution today, in order to maximise the size of their removal market tomorrow. This is like awarding window-repair contracts to the vandal who is walking around the city at night smashing all the windows.

BECCS (Bio-energy Carbon Capture & Storage) & Biofuelwatch BECCS-report-2022 . There are dangerous plans to rely heavily on biomass for negative emissions via BECCS plants. BECCS is an unproven technology that has never been proven to work at scale, even those intending to use it say so ! .

The scale of BECCS assumed in models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) typically requires land 1-to-2 times the area of India (  ). Recent studies estimate that BECCS alone may create more land-use emissions than it captures, may result in water shortages for 4.5 billion people and found that these impacts could be reduced if BECCS “feedstocks were restricted to wastes and residues”( ) .

So adding transport biofuel requirements to this demand for biomass “wastes” would inevitably lead to increased use of energy crops and increased impacts. There isn't enough biomass waste to cover the demand for both biofuels and BECCS and for some part it is the same feed: e.g. when ethanol biofuel from corn is produced a lot of CO2 is also produced that can then be either used or stored. The whole process can still be called BECCS because the energy extracted from the biomass as biofuel and the CO2, can be captured and stored

Potential global demand for sustainable biomass by key applications in 2050 ( )

We simply cannot plan for large-scale BECCS and other forms of bioenergy (e.g. biofuels), without huge risk to people and planet. Therefore, reasonable land priorities should be:

  • Land is used for preserving or restoring biodiversity and carbon sinks (forests, peatland, mangroves, etc.) but not as offsets or associated NBS/NCS as a commodification; whilst securing indigenous lands and their forms of governance, since indigenous people maintain 80% of the planet's biodiversity.

  • Land is used for agriculture: maximising plant-based agriculture as an efficient use of resources in shifting toward a vegetarian diet for climate impact reasons; minimising livestock farming as an inefficient use of resources; and maximising the land required for agricultural crops used for food, not biofuel feedstock.

We should be calling for a systemic approach to land use and a profound change in the agricultural model taking into account all the environmental aspects, rather than using just the narrow metric of carbon uptake.

The IPCC's (AR6 WG2) report states that “BECCS is an integral part of all widely accepted pathways to holding global temperature rise to 1.5°C (IPCC, 2018b). This requires large areas of land which can conflict with the need to produce food and protect biodiversity (Smith et al., 2018). One study that examined the combined impacts of climate change and land use change for bioenergy and found severe impacts on species were likely if bioenergy were a major component of climate change mitigation strategies (Hof et al., 2018). [...] To avoid the worst impacts of BECCS, it will need to be carefully targeted, according to context and local conditions (and other mitigation strategies prioritised so its use can be minimised).”

Both DAC & BECCS have a risk of CO₂ leakages from pipelines and geological storage ( )

Big polluters/emitters like the aviation sector, oil and gas, agribusiness and big tech, are strongly advocating for NETs and offsetting opportunities, to prolong business as usual and hence dependence on fossil fuels. Such schemes will give complete freedom to continue polluting while claiming that unproven and inefficient NETs like BECCS and DAC will one day balance out all the carbon emitted across previous decades. This undermines demands for real deep emissions cuts and would be used to excuse and justify new oil and gas infrastructure, locking us into decades of continued fossil fuel use and potentially causing us to miss a pivotal, short window for radical change

Their development cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions now. Every tonne of promised future NET carbon dioxide removal represents emissions that are bringing us more climate chaos today. 


CCS is not an actual NET but the second step of the two known NETs, DACCS and BECCS and therefore associated given its vital role in them, particularly in DAC where the carbon is stored either underground as CO2 or in carbonate products of varying durability.

The transmission or transport costs and impact of moving captured CO2 are rarely discussed but remain significant.

If a CCS approach is used, the captured CO2 is compressed into liquid form and transported to sites where it could be pumped into geological formations – theoretically for long-term storage -  but that comes with a whole range of risks, among which leakage is an important one. Alternatively there are proposals to “store” captured CO2 in goods with varying longevity, such as sparkling water, carbon-based fuels and chemicals, or building materials. The energy-intensively captured CO2, usually eventually re-enters the atmosphere so it is at best a postponement of the emissions. All these techniques are especially of interest to fossil fuel industries, which are their main investors, because they help to justify continued extraction and use of dirty energy sources. This implies the continued devastation of poor communities around the world, with acute environmental justice, health and economic impacts, while having little evidence it can address the climate crisis at the scale required. (All ).

An analysis by DeSmog (of these documents ) found that internal communications from BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute include statements that: CCS enables or prolongs the use of fossil fuels in the energy transition; acknowledge the challenges or limitations of CCS; and references to the need for USA federal funding or policy support for CCS and the industry’s role in securing that assistance. In a February 2016 internal position paper on climate change, BP lists CCS among major options for limiting emissions, alongside improving agriculture, cutting coal consumption and ramping up fossil gas. In a revealing statement, the oil major writes that CCS “could enable continued large-scale use of fossil fuels in a tightly carbon-limited world but faces substantial technology, commercial and logistical challenges.” In response to a request for comment regarding these concerns, a BP spokesperson referenced statements the company has made about CCS on its website, including that “CCS is necessary to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement” and “We believe CCS can play a key role to help hard-to-abate industries decarbonize and transition.” ( & - Will The UK’s Flagship Climate ‘Solution’ Be Used to Pump More North Sea Oil?).

In 2022, the UK emitted 240,610.3kt of CO2, according to Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research. However, all CCU(Underground)S projects globally have only captured/stored a combined 197,000kt of CO2 since 1996, according to Imperial College, showing that the technology still has a long way to go.

There are concerns regarding the storage capacity for CCS and the yawning gap between the miniscule scale of currently monitored and verified carbon removal and the colossal scale apparently required for governments and industries to reach net-zero. Current CCS projects are not fulfilling their promise. Whilst funding, especially from the polluting industries, might be ploughed into CCS research and trials, we should recognise that its purpose, as too-often presented today, is a technofix geared to short-circuiting difficult politico-economic decisions and in support of fossil-fuel giants. As the MIT Technology Review observes, CCS risks becoming a dangerous distraction from the need to reduce emissions.


NBS refers to the sustainable management and use of nature for tackling socio-environmental challenges. Originally NBS encompassed environmental policies more broadly, whereas NCS were specifically carbon reduction but they are now pretty much used synonymously. NBS/NCS are important for mitigating climate breakdown impacts or other human-caused environmental problems, for example:- reintroducing beavers to reduce flood risk; planting mangroves to absorb storm impact; flood reduction landscaping; planting to slow rainfall run-off; peat-bog, saltmarsh and wetlands restoration; etc. They can help restore biodiversity and remove carbon from the atmosphere, storing it naturally.
 In principle NBS/NCS are a good thing. However the dangers arise when they are used for offsetting emissions, particularly where they are commodified by market mechanisms and associated credits are traded and speculated upon. Clearly NBS/NCS are something that should be encouraged as an additional aid to mitigating climate heating by storing carbon within Nature but not instead of emissions reductions, allowing business-as-usual to continue. 
The financialisation of nature (and its associated life support systems), assumes that it is impossible to halt destruction without putting a price on ‘ecosystem services’ and biodiversity, formulated by Costanza, R. et al (1997): . This approach does lead to land grabbing and biodiversity loss and might lead to species gene banking and putting nature on sale like any other commodity ( Banking Nature (2015): & Paulson Institute (2020): ) (the rarer the species, the higher the price). 
Quantifying potential NBS/NCS carbon uptake from ecosystem protection or restoration and using this as a lever to secure funding, puts the power in the hands of the finance providers. This makes any safeguards impossible to enforce ( REDD-Monitor (2020): ).In practice, those who have the most incentive to provide funding are those who wish to offset large-scale fossil fuel emissions. At COP25, a market for natural climate solutions ( IETA (2019): ) was jointly launched ( In These Times (2019):  For COP26 a group of conservation and academic organisations wrote an open letter supporting NBS ( NBS Guidelines:, calling for a set of principles to be observed but did not rule out their use as carbon offsets. Some NGOs actively promote offsetting, carbon credits and have appointed corporate partners to aid such promotion. 
There is a broad scope of schemes  ( REDD-Monitor (2019): and application processes. NBS/NCS are also increasingly used by airports like Heathrow  ( Heathrow Media Centre (2018):, who aim at achieving a "zero carbon airport by mid-2030s" to justify their growth plans and increased emissions.
NBS/NCS are not new but similar to previous measures  (World Rainforest Movement (2020): like the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (1985), the Clean Development Mechanism (Kyoto Protocol) and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). 
We need to push against false solutions, however they are rebranded – and push for real solutions that are community led and come ‘from the ground up’. Enabling self-determination and rights of indigenous peoples is one of the most effective uses of ‘conservation’ funding but very little is spent in this way. The ‘Nature and Climate’ framing was seen as a step forward from ‘Climate’ but it is still deficient. We still want to talk about nature but as part of an ecosystem culture - ‘Nature, People and Climate’.
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