Research program:
Climate Change as a Waste Management Challenge

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, CO2 from fossil sources has been dumped into the air, raising its concentration from 280 ppm to 415 ppm. The rise in CO2 (2.5 ppm/yr) is still accelerating, even though COVID-19 caused a temporary slowdown. Roughly half of the CO2 persists for centuries in the air making it necessary to limit aggregate emissions rather than the rate of emission. Seamless scientific evidence clearly shows that limiting global warming to 2 °C cannot be achieved without negative emissions. Transforming the world’s energy infrastructure and creating such negative emissions at the necessary scale (on the order of 20 to 40 Gt CO2 per year) requires more than new technologies; it requires social innovation to create a framework that allows and motivates the rapid introduction of new technology, fairly distributes the burden between developed and developing countries, between the present and future generations, and between rich and poor.  Our goal is to analyze the strength and weaknesses of a shift to a paradigm that treats CO2 emissions as a waste management problem and to expose stakeholders to this idea. Different groups of climate change stakeholders find a waste management approach more appealing since it cuts through some of the complexity of dealing with carbon dioxide emissions. This approach opens door to a wide range of technological solutions that would be overlooked in the traditional framework of treating carbon as pollution. 

Research project V.1: CO2: waste or pollutant?

The growing environmental impacts from climate change are rooted in the excess and uncontrolled disposal of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. CO2 qualifies as a waste in the form of an unwanted by-product of energy production. It also fits the definition of a pollutant that is accumulating in the environment at a rate faster than its natural decay. Even though the underlying physics of climate change remains untouched, waste CO2 and pollutant CO2 each have their own implications from a policy perspective. When acknowledged as waste, CO2 may be handled by the insight for other waste streams such as municipal solid waste management. This project investigates how acknowledging CO2 as waste can potentially change the climate mitigation narrative and provide the opportunity for a diverse portfolio of policy and technology solutions to address a multifaceted problem such as climate change.  

In this project, we demonstrate what a carbon waste management approach would look like, what its strengths and weaknesses are, how it is different from other mitigation approaches, and how analogies with other waste streams can help us understand this new paradigm. We model scenarios to investigate the potential for CO2 reduction by renewable energies alone and the impact of a waste management strategy on carbon reduction in the next 100 years.

Moreover, this project includes a systematic analysis of different stakeholders in climate change policy. This study first identifies different stakeholders on a global level. In the next step, we investigate how each one of the stakeholder groups benefits from the status quo carbon emissions and is affected by climate change. The project also aims to answer these questions by reaching out to a network of experts and stakeholders who may support or oppose the waste management paradigm.

Research project V.2: Certificates of sequestration

The research and deployment of carbon sequestration solutions are evolving rapidly. Solutions are diverse in terms of reliability, deployment maturity, risks, and costs. To achieve scale as soon as possible, many types of solutions will need to be deployed in parallel. However, a market for sequestration is growing mostly without independent oversight making it possible for potentially dangerous, wasteful, or fraudulent claims to be made. A standard sequestration framework uniformly applicable across a wide range of options is necessary now more than ever. In this project, we are introducing such a framework design, investigating case studies of existing certificates, exploring the implementation of such certification, and developing a strategic position for our partner in this project, the NGO Conservation International.

Research project V.3: Closing the carbon loop

Abating the release of fossil carbon into our environment, either as CO2 or as products (e.g., plastic and chemicals), is a double challenge that the chemical industry sector will have to meet as part of a global effort to steward a livable planet. A different approach is necessary, one that closes the carbon cycle by transitioning to a circular system. However, the implementation of such a system has only rarely been explored, let alone developed to work within the complex supply chains of the chemical industry. System design, boundary delineations, leakage prevention, recapture, and tracking would need to be addressed. Building on our work on CO2 as waste and the certification of carbon sequestration, this project offers the opportunity to test how certification upfront in the supply chain of a chemical industry would work in real-time.


Research personnel


1. Books, Monographs, White Papers, Technical Reports:

2. Articles in newspapers, online/hardcopies, magazines, etc.

3. Papers in peer-reviewed journals:

4. Reviewed Conference Proceedings

Workshops, Webinars, Seminars

Titles, dates, speakers, links:

Software: Produced from the research activities

1. Name, functionality, description

2. Guidelines for its use; illustrations of use

Our team developed an interactive map with the software Kumu to present a snapshot of the organizations certifying carbon sequestration for which carbon reservoirs and which sequestration methods. The map offers glimpses of where improvements could be made to strengthen the certification available. The map is in review for the journal Climate Policy and will be available for public consumption upon publication.


Anything that is not included above but should be discussed as important manifestation of your research activities.

Over the course of the project, the ASU team has been involved in multiple climate policy-making discussions in a knowledge consultant capacity. In the latest effort, our team participated in two meetings discussing potential carbon dioxide removal (CDR) procurement bills, one with California policymakers and the other with an Arizona state senator. By answering policymakers’ questions regarding the effectiveness of government procurement for CDR technologies, the ASU team played an essential role in these meetings.

Dr. Stephanie Arcusa and Dr. Klaus Lackner participated in a discussion on the new carbon economy for the United Nations Global Compact Leaders’ Summit and contributed to a new climate board competent board certificate program. Dr. Arcusa also participated in a round panel discussion on advances in the partnership for carbon removal at the Third Annual Global Climate Restoration Forum hosted by the Foundation for Climate Restoration and a webinar to discuss how local governments can drive carbon dioxide removal innovations hosted by OpenAir.