Is carbon removal delaying emission reductions?

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Carbon dioxide removal is rapidly becoming a key focus in climate research and politics. This is raising concerns of “moral hazard” or “mitigation deterrence,” that is, the risk that promises of and/or efforts to pursue carbon removal end up reducing or delaying near-term mitigation efforts. Some, however, contest this risk, arguing that it is overstated or lacking evidence. In this review, we explore the reasons behind the disagreement in the literature. We unpack the different ways in which moral hazard/mitigation deterrence (MH/MD) is conceptualized and examine how these conceptualizations inform assessments of MH/MD risks. We find that MH/MD is a commonly recognized feature of modeled mitigation pathways but that conclusions as to the real-world existence of MH/MD diverge on individualistic versus structural approaches to examining it. Individualistic approaches favor narrow conceptualizations of MH/MD, which tend to exclude the wider political-economic contexts in which carbon removal emerges. This exclusion limits the value and relevance of such approaches. We argue for a broader understanding of what counts as evidence of delaying practices and propose a research agenda that complements theoretical accounts of MH/MD with empirical studies of the political-economic structures that may drive mitigation deterrence dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere826
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number4
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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