Climate and Sustainability, Environmental Equity and Justice

Carbon Removal Justice Fellows Program

This past July, eleven fellows in the Carbon Removal Justice Fellows Program convened for two weeks of intensive discussions, launching a year of continued engagement on the equity and justice dimensions of carbon removal policy. Their aim? To challenge this emerging industry to break away from the patterns of environmental injustice that have characterized emissions-generating industries.

“Globally and in the United States, critical voices have been left out of policy and decision-making in addressing many aspects of climate,” says director of the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy Dr. Simon Nicholson. “While progress has been made, we have an opportunity with carbon removal to not repeat this history. Thanks to generous funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the New York Community Trust, the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy will play its part in making sure that carbon removal developments are guided by and to the benefit of those who face the most significant harms from climate change and the fossil fuel economy.”

Carbon Removal, also called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), is a rapidly growing industry that aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away for decades, centuries, or millennia. Some prominent methods of CDR include reforestation, direct air capture, and ocean fertilization, among others.

The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, an American University research institute, is founded upon the idea that carbon removal could slow, limit, or even reverse climate change, but that it is not a substitute for cutting our greenhouse gas emissions now. Instead, the Institute promotes carbon removal as a supplement to rapid and deep decarbonization. 

The Institute aims to advocate for sustainable methods of carbon removal through academic research, NGO engagement, outreach, and education. The Carbon Removal Justice Fellows Program, created in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, is the next step in the Institute’s ongoing dialogue on the centrality of justice, human rights, and equity in sustainable carbon removal policy.

During their two-week in-person engagement in July, the eleven fellows traveled across the country to engage in critical discussions with NGOs, business councils, government agencies, and more. 

“In my view, our purpose – the red thread guiding us through our manifold meetings – was to hold space, to parse through some of the complex issues at the intersections of environmental justice and CDR, and to challenge existing perceptions,” says program fellow Jake Ferrell. “In this last aspect we were especially successful, and success in this instance often meant tension and uncomfortable exchanges. But tension is often necessary for progress, and many participants across the program appreciated our candor.”