The Humane League
Carbon180 Graphic for "Direct Air Capture"
Carbon180 Cover picture

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere

Carbon180 is a non-profit organization that focuses on "negative emissions", i.e. supporting natural and technological measures to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers negative emissions to be unavoidable if the target of net zero CO2- or greenhouse gas emissions is to be achieved. This requires existing approaches to be scaled up on a large scale and new, even more cost-effective technologies to be developed.

Analysts of the charity evaluation organization Founders Pledge estimate that a donation to Carbon180 in the amount of € 1 will lead to the fact that significantly more than one ton of CO2 is withdrawn from the atmosphere.

The problem

Pushing greenhouse gas emissions quickly towards zero is not enough to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, i.e. to limit the man-made global temperature rise to 1.5°C or less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial times. There is now a scientific consensus that Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), i.e. the use of methods for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere is unavoidable in order to compensate for residual emissions that are difficult to avoid.[1]

One reason for this is that there are hardly any approaches for some branches of industry that would allow them to operate completely without emitting CO2 or other greenhouse gases.[2] On the other hand, known solutions for decarbonization have not been or are still not being implemented quickly enough.

The goal of climate neutrality therefore involves offsetting unavoidable or barely avoidable residual emissions. And if we do not achieve net-zero emissions very quickly, these additional greenhouse gases must also be offset by "negative emissions" in order to achieve the temperature targets in the long term. The Systems Change Lab assumes that technological CDR will increase to 30-690 MtCO2 per year and by 2050 even to 740-5,500 MtCO2 in order to achieve the Paris climate targets.[3]

Although there are already various approaches to reducing CO2 these are still not being implemented enough. Accordingly, the Systems Change Lab sees a positive development, it is far from sufficient to achieve the quantities of CDR required by 2030 and 2050. The main reasons for this are the still very high costs and the often lacking political framework.

Negative emissions, but how? 6 suggestions (© MCC)
Negative emissions, but how? 6 suggestions (© MCC)

The solution

CO2-removal must become feasible in good time. To ensure that "negative emissions" can be achieved safely, cost-effectively and on the necessary scale, it is important to invest now in researching and piloting new processes and to create the framework conditions to enable known approaches to be rolled out.[4] This is what Carbon180 has been doing in the USA, particularly in the following 3 areas:

  • Political representation of interests - At the political level Carbon180 is working on framework conditions for the promotion and expansion of negative emissions technologies (NET) in the USA.
  • Promotion of innovation - Carbon180 works directly with start-ups and academia in a network of industry experts and scientists to remove barriers to growth for NET.
  • Environmental justice - Carbon180 is committed to a justice-oriented policy on CO2-withdrawal, which takes into account the interests of previously disadvantaged communities and ensures greater climate justice, as stated in the report Removing Forward .
Direct Air Capture
System for the direct extraction of CO2 from the ambient air (Direct Air Capture - DAC)
Direct Air Capture
System for the direct extraction of CO2 from the ambient air (Direct Air Capture - DAC)

The effect

Carbon180 has already achieved considerable success, particularly in the area of political advocacy in the USA. In 2021, for example, the organization successfully campaigned for the "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act" funds in the billions were made available for research, development and deployment (RD&D) of NET. In the previous year Carbon180 with a budget of less than $500,000, helped increase government research spending on NET to $68 million in 2020 and introduced government tax credits for Direct Air Capture, processes that capture CO2 is taken directly from the ambient air. Even if Carbon180 has made all of these outcomes just a small fraction more likely, this makes the organization highly effective and extraordinarily cost-efficient.

Since then Carbon180 has been committed to the successful implementation of the regional "Direct Air Capture" hubs among other things, for which $3.5 billion was approved from the U.S. federal budget- partly due to the efforts of the Carbon180-team. For local acceptance of the hubs, Carbon180 places strong emphasis on environmental justice, as in the past the development of energy infrastructure in the USA has often been at the expense of disadvantaged social groups.

Other priorities of the organization for 2023 and 2024 include

  • U.S. 2023 Farm Bill:The law defines agricultural policy for the next five years and therefore offers an important opportunity to activate forests and agricultural land as carbon sinks. Carbon180 is therefore working on proposals for a comprehensive, cross-departmental program to develop the necessary scientific foundations, instruments and projects.
  • Other CDR methods: The focus of US policy on CDR is almost exclusively on Direct Air Capture as a technology. Accordingly Carbon180 also calls for greater consideration of other methods of CO2-extraction and storage, including the storage of CO2 in the oceans .

The organization

Carbon180 is a non-profit organization founded in Oakland, California in 2015 and based in Washington, DC. Currently Carbon180 employs about 30 employees. 

Although the organization is still relatively young, its expertise is already being taken very seriously by political decision-makers. For example, the co-founder and then President of Carbon180, Noah Deich, joined the transition team of US President-elect Joseph Biden in November 2020. He is now Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) at the US Department of Energy.[5]

Overall, the increasing attention for CDR is also noticeable in the philanthropic environment. Since 2018, funding has more than doubled to around $175 million per year. However, almost three quarters of the funding went to natural carbon sinks. Funding for technological CDR solutions or oceans remains low.[6]

Long-term, programmatic work on CDR as at Carbon180 is still the exception rather than the rule for climate protection organizations, so that Carbon180 continues to play an important role. Carbon180 has itself also benefited from the increased attention for CDR; accordingly, the organization's funding requirements are now lower and are primarily aimed at further, cautious growth. The initiative Giving Green, which evaluates highly effective climate protection organizations, therefore no longer lists Carbon180 as a recommendation.[7]

As CDR remains an important, rather neglected area despite increasing attention and Carbon180 has so far been able to make a convincing contribution to change, we will continue to recommend Carbon180 . However, the benefit of an additional donation euro is now likely to be somewhat higher in other areas.

Blog articles

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    Protecting the climate: 2023 Review

    Effective climate protection in 2023: a review of the work and successes of our top recommendations in the area of climate protection.

  • COP28 is over. Now what?
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    The most effective climate protection organizations have once again made a valuable contribution at COP28. Donations work!

  • The false promise of CO2 compensation
    The false promise of CO2 compensation

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External evaluation


[1] ↑ German translation of the main statements of Working Group III on the Sixth IPCC Assessment Report (AR6-WGIII). IPCC. April 2022.

[2] ↑ Deep decarbonization of industry is possible with innovations. March 2019.

[3] ↑ Scale up technological carbon removal. Systems Change Lab. Retrieved November 2023.

[4] ↑ See also Kurzdossier: CO₂-Entnahme – So kommt Treibhausgas raus aus der Atmosphäre. Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC).

[5] ↑ Noah Deich, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Carbon Management. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved November 2023.

[6] ↑The state of philanthropic funding for carbon removal. ClimateWorks Foundation. May 2023.

[7] ↑"As of November 2022, we no longer recommend Carbon180, largely due to their success in fundraising." Carbon180: Recommendation. Giving Green. November 2022.