This is a call for papers that examine how the focus on net zero and carbon removal in current climate governance changes the dynamics of mitigation deterrence and climate delay (Carton et al., 2020). It invites contributions that in one way or another engage with empirical examples where (the promise of) carbon removal results in mitigation deterrence and delay.
In recent years, the climate conversation has moved towards an entirely new framing and discourse: Countries, municipalities, and various private actors have adopted the framing of ‘net zero’ as the new master narrative of global climate governance. The net zero narrative promises to balance out any remaining emissions with removals at some point in the near or medium-term future, and as of June 2022, 90% of country targets include net zero pledges.
In keeping with the rapid growth of the net zero conversation, a number of concerns are being raised about what such pledges actually mean, and what is or is not encapsulated in them (Fankhauser et al., 2022). A growing number of reports and analyses by scholars, NGOs and climate think tanks find that net zero pledges differ immensely in terms of their scope, transparency and implied climate ambition. Some pledges, e.g. by major oil and gas companies, amount to little more than greenwashing, while those of some other actors depict a clearer commitment to scaling up emission reductions (Day et al., 2022; Li et al., 2022; Oxfam, 2021).
A central question in the net zero debate concerns the question of climate delay. More specifically, whether or not the implied fungibility between removals and reductions (and residual emissions) presupposed by the ‘net’, and the enormous ambiguity and flexibility that such fungibility allows, is creating a new dynamic of climate delay, what scholars in recent years have called mitigation deterrence (McLaren et al., 2021). This literature has asked the question of whether the introduction of net climate targets, and the increasing focus on removals in policy and corporate discourse, create a distraction from the need to dramatically accelerate emission reductions.
The question of mitigation deterrence has lately stirred considerable academic debate. A common argument against mitigation deterrence is simply that we have to do both emissions reductions and carbon removal (Jebari et al., 2021), while others claim that this argument over-estimates how rationally managed society is and underestimates the influence of societal inertia and organised interests (Markusson et al., 2018). So far, much of the mitigation deterrence debate has taken place at a fairly abstract, theoretical, conceptual level. Few studies, however, have engaged with the empirical dimensions of mitigation deterrence in relation to carbon removal and net zero in practice.
Carbon removal is so far mostly a future promise, an imaginary of what climate governance might look like multiple decades from now. However, now we are seeing the development of actual carbon removal projects, carbon removal start-ups are popping up everywhere, and policy on removal is being developed in for example the European Union and the US (Schenuit et al., 2021). Significant amounts of funding are pouring into this field, including from wealthy philanthropists and large tech companies. This creates an environment where it now becomes possible, much more than before, to engage with the empirics of mitigation deterrence for particular cases, across different geographies and temporalities. Doing so would enable the debate to move forward and ground some of the theoretical claims that have been made in the literature, and illustrate the need for policy makers to engage with the risks involved.
This special issue seeks to examine how carbon removal and the focus on net zero in current climate governance influence the dynamics of mitigation deterrence and climate delay. We invite papers that engage with this emerging empirical domain, focusing, but not exclusively, on:
- How national and corporate net-zero pledges and carbon removal plans are translated into concrete policies and plans, including considerations of whether these remain future imaginaries or translate into concrete projects and actions on the ground;
- How some places and ways of life – and associated emissions – are reimagined and/or transformed, while others are not because of carbon removal projects (Shue, 2019, Hickel 2022);
- How carbon removal pilots and start-ups are funded and what networks of support they build on;
- How different public or private actors mobilize carbon removal promises and narratives to legitimize existing carbon-intensive practices (Megura and Gunderson, 2022);
- How graphs, numbers and science more broadly are mobilised by public entities, corporate players and other actors to promote carbon removal projects, and, potentially, distract attention from emissions reductions;
- How certain continued activities and associated emissions are justified discursively as necessary, desirable and not possible to abate, and thereby conjure a need for (future) carbon removal;
- How different actors call for, question or resist specificemissions reductions and carbon removal efforts and how they are discursively positioned to support specific transformations towards net zero/net negative (Gough and Mander, 2019);
- How mitigation deterrence risks are perceived, and what attempts to counteract mitigation deterrence claims are undertaken in policy and/or projects;
- How mitigation deterrence risks can be minimised or pre-empted;
Our timeline for the special issue looks like this:
- August 1st – Send out the call
- Mid-Sept – Abstract submission
- Oct 1st – Confirmation to authors
- Xmas – Draft papers submitted to special issue editors
- Jan 31st – Feedback to authors
- March 1st – Paper submission to journal
- End of 2023 – Special issue published.
We are in conversation with journals about a suitable home for the special issue. Potential journals that we have thought to contact include: Global Sustainability, World Development, Environment and Planning E and Geoforum.
Please submit abstracts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday September 15th.
Nils Markusson, Holly Buck, Wim Carton, Kate Dooley, Jens Friis Lund, Inge-Merete Hougaard and Camila Moreno.
Carton, W., A. Asiyanbi, S. Beck, et al. (2020) ‘Negative emissions and the long history of carbon removal’. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change.
Day, T., S. Mooldijk, S. Smit, et al. (2022) ‘Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor 2022’.
Fankhauser, S., S.M. Smith, M. Allen, et al. (2022) ‘The meaning of net zero and how to get it right’. Nature Climate Change.
Gough, C. and S. Mander (2019) ‘Beyond Social Acceptability: Applying Lessons from CCS Social Science to Support Deployment of BECCS’. Current Sustainable/Renewable Energy Reports 6(4). Current Sustainable/Renewable Energy Reports: 116–23.
Hickel, J., & Slameršak, A. (2022). Existing climate mitigation scenarios perpetuate colonial inequalities. Lancet Planet Health, 6, e628-31.
Jebari, J., O.O. Táíwò, T.M. Andrews, et al. (2021) ‘From moral hazard to risk-response feedback’. Climate Risk Management 33.
Li, M., G. Trencher and J. Asuka (2022) ‘The clean energy claims of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell: A mismatch between discourse, actions and investments’. PLoS ONE 17(2 February).
Markusson, N., D. McLaren and D. Tyfield (2018) ‘Towards a cultural political economy of mitigation deterrence by negative emissions technologies (NETs)’. Global Sustainability.
McLaren, D., Willis, R., Szerszynski, B., et al. (2021) ‘Attractions of delay: Using deliberative engagement to investigate the political and strategic impacts of greenhouse gas removal technologies’. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space.
Megura, M. and R. Gunderson (2022) ‘Better poison is the cure? Critically examining fossil fuel companies, climate change framing, and corporate sustainability reports’. Energy Research and Social Science 85.
Oxfam (2021) ‘Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets – implications for land and food equity’.
Schenuit, F., R. Colvin, M. Fridahl, et al. (2021) ‘Carbon Dioxide Removal Policy in the Making: Assessing Developments in 9 OECD Cases’. Frontiers in Climate 3(March): 1–22.
Shue, H. (2019) ‘Subsistence protection and mitigation ambition: Necessities, economic and climatic’. British Journal of Politics and International Relations.