In early February, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Green New Deal (GND), a sweeping resolution that addresses the dual challenges of income inequality and climate change, and the first government policy document aimed at curbing climate change as one of its goals.


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in October 2018 stated that there will have to be some removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere — the first and most vital step in restoring the climate — in order to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change (including massive die-offs of coral reefs, flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and widespread droughts).

Climate restoration is the principle of removing CO2 to get back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels, specifically below 300 parts per million (ppm), and restoring the world’s ecosystems, such as increasing ice in the Arctic.

In line with the IPCC report, the GND set several 10-year targets that include keeping global temperatures less than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, meeting 100% of the country’s energy needs through renewable and zero-emissions energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. But the proposal also exceeds those goals by specifically calling for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and restoring natural ecosystems.


Foundations, activists and policymakers — including those who introduced the Green New Deal and those sponsoring legislation to promote carbon capture technologies — understand that removing atmospheric CO2 must be part of the solution in tackling climate change.

The task at hand is to get the CO2 levels back below 300 ppm by 2050. Removing a trillion tons of CO2 is a gargantuan task, and it’s estimated to cost $100 trillion if governments buy the carbon, or a few hundred billion dollars if done wisely, utilizing existing commercial markets.

It’s promising that the GND includes the removal of some atmospheric CO2, but the resolution stopped short of setting a specific target. That’s a mistake. In order to restore a healthy climate, society should set a goal of reducing CO2 to levels less than 300 ppm by 2050. That means removing roughly a trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere (depending on how quickly emissions of the gas are reduced); a feasible goal, but one that will only be met if governments, scientists and private enterprise join forces.

A number of companies have developed the capacity to remove small amounts of atmospheric CO2 from power plants; a few are in the early stages of using technology to remove CO2 from the air. At scale, these machines will be able to remove massive amounts of CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere.