Africa Carbon Removal Plant: Can It Save Us from Climate Change

The goal of a Carbon Removal Plant that will be constructed in Kenya and have the potential to remove up to 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from the environment annually is to create a greener and more fair future.

As the world is anticipated to invest trillions of dollars in climate-related investments in the upcoming years, the proposal to construct a direct air capture plant, announced in September as a joint venture between Swiss company Climeworks and Kenya-based Great Carbon Valley, has been billed as a springboard for developing a new, green economy in Africa.

Direct-air capture is a highly energy-intensive method that pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it underground. Some climate experts have attacked the idea, saying it is a risky diversion from the one real method to combat climate change: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching en masse away from fossil fuels. Others claim that a multifaceted strategy to reduce global warming must include direct air capture.

The CEO of Great Carbon Valley, Bilha Ndirangu, stated that “the world will need to decarbonize.” Different investments and technologies will be made in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. How can we guarantee that some of these investments take place in Africa?

The disproportionate effects of climate change, such as excessive drought and floods, on African countries that have made relatively little contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions strengthen the case for investment in Africa. The world’s youngest continent, with 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population under 30, was the topic of debates at the United Nations and the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi last month.

Watchdogs who claim that foreign investment in the global South might be damaging if investors from the global North put profit over the safety and rights of local communities moderate calls for investment in Africa.

“There’s a real need for safeguards on where these projects are taking place,” said Ugbaad Kosar, the director of environmental justice at Carbon180, a climate NGO that promotes equitable carbon removal. “And after that is made, it’s crucial to monitor how the risks, rewards, and resources are distributed among the businesses and vulnerable populations.”

firms can buy carbon credits, which are units of carbon dioxide that have been removed from the atmosphere by firms like Climeworks, to offset their carbon emissions. With the removal of carbon, businesses that still use fossil fuels may assert that they are carbon-neutral because they have offsets produced by plants like the one envisioned for Kenya.

Jonathan Foley, a climate scientist and the creator of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit climate organization, stated that all direct air capture does is allow fossil fuel firms appear they are addressing climate change while they continue to dig for oil. Giving oil and gas firms a fig leaf in exchange for a few seconds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is not a fair deal.

The Great Rift Valley, an intercontinental depression rich in thick basalt rocks that stretches across Kenya from Tanzania to Ethiopia, will be the site of the plant, which is expected to be finished by 2028.

According to Ndirangu, the project presents Kenya with a chance to address the climate catastrophe while generating employment and extending the renewable energy system.

Kenya uses a comparatively modest amount of renewable energy in its electricity infrastructure. According to Carlijn Nouwen, co-founder of the organization Climate Action Platform for Africa, the nation has a wealth of geothermal, solar, and wind potential, but these sources of renewable energy are now untapped.

Although Nouwen cautioned that Kenyan policymakers would need to enact policies to ensure the new energy reaches citizens, she said that many energy companies see little incentive to invest in Kenya’s energy infrastructure. However, the energy-intensive Climeworks project could help attract investment in the grid and benefit Kenyan citizens, she said.

Olfmi O. Táw, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University who specializes in climate justice, expressed his skepticism about the project’s ability to help Kenyans above the interests of the firms’ bottom lines.

“The investment is coming in to set up carbon removal that allows corporations in rich countries to dump their carbon pollution in the global South,” Táw remarked. “That kind of investment does not inspire confidence in our ability to advance climate justice.”

Whether the technology is beneficial or destructive, most experts concur that it is constrained by exorbitant costs, high energy demands, and a lack of scalability. Only a small portion of the 36.8 billion metric tons of CO2 that will be released into the atmosphere by human activity in 2022 will be removed by the 27 direct air capture facilities throughout the world each year.

Some People Argue That It Is Useless To Invest In Direct Air Capture Technologies.

Professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University Mark Jacobson stated, “We don’t have an infinite amount of renewable energy.” “It is not being utilized for anything else if it is being used for direct air collection. And right now, fossil fuels must be replaced with all of our renewable energy.

Climeworks’ chief marketing officer, Julie Gosalvez, asserted that it is incorrect to evaluate a technology’s potential in light of its current efficiency and that the business intends to increase its net carbon removal over the coming decades to billions of metric tons.

Gosalvez stated that reducing carbon emissions by moving away from fossil fuels accounts for around 90% of the climate solution, but he underlined the necessity for some carbon removal.

Global climate leaders generally concur. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in its most recent report that all strategies for limiting global warming to 1.5 C need carbon dioxide removal.

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