Which process removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

Carbon removal, sometimes referred to as “negative emissions”, is a strategy that’s increasingly used in climate policy to mitigate climate change. Advocates of this method say that CDR can counterbalance emissions that are technically difficult to eliminate, such as some agricultural and industrial emissions.

As of 2023, CDR is estimated to remove around 2 gigatons of CO2 per year,[1] which is equivalent to 4% of the greenhouse gases emitted per year by human activities.[10]: 8  There is potential to remove and sequester up to 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year (which is almost 20% of the greenhouse gases emitted per year by human activities. The existing CDR methods can be safely and economically deployed now.

The process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis takes place in two ways.

Natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

Photosynthesis occurs in the first place through nature-based carbon removal. This method refers to the ways in which the ecosystem—plants, land, and oceans—naturally removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Forests and trees are well-known ways to absorb carbon as they grow, but animals like whales are great carbon absorbers too – in this issue of the Hotpot, we featured an article by journalist Kristin Thoussaint about how whales could be a secret weapon in the fight against climate change.

As you can imagine, this method to curb carbon from the air includes low involvement from humans, as they can only manage forests and facilitate nature-based carbon removal practices.

Carbon removal technologies

In the second place, engineered carbon removal methods are processes humans have developed to convert carbon into stable forms (liquid, solid, or contained gas) to then store it semi-permanently or permanently. Technologies like direct air capture are anno 2023 not fully ready yet for commercial deployment, as costs and its energy intensity are still major obstacles.


There are 6 specific ways – natural or engineered – to remove carbon from the air. For The Hotpot, we try to cover them all by collecting the best articles on carbon removal, to keep you up to date on valuable climate solutions and innovations and their progress.

Find some stories selected by The Hotpot in an area of your interest:

1. Direct Air Capture
2. Carbon Mineralization
3. Ocean-Based Approaches
4. Biomass Carbon Removal and Storage
5. Farms and Soils
6. Trees and Forests

More Frequently Asked Questions in this section.


  1. Smith, Steve; et al. (January 19, 2023). “Guest post: The state of ‘carbon dioxide removal’ in seven charts”. Carbon Brief. Retrieved April 29, 2023.

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