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Startups control the carbon market (takeaway from my VERGE Net Zero discussion)

August 06, 2021

Here's my big takeaway from VERGE Net Zero where I met with Liz Willmott (Microsoft's carbon lead), Shuchi Talati (Department of Energy), and Julio Friedmann (Columbia University, Carbon Direct). Here's the 1 hour recording of the VERGE discussion. And here's the video of my message below (5 min).

What: There's an order of magnitude gap in the supply and demand for carbon removal credits. For example, Microsoft wanted to buy 50 million tons of carbon removal credits, and could only find 2 million tons available. We've heard the same from Shopify and Stripe.

So What: This demand surge means: 

  1. Startups selling carbon removal are in the driver's seat
  2. Startups have the rare opportunity to pick their customers and set the standards for carbon removal
  3. Act now, it's unclear how long this will be the case.

Imagine you're working on a company that pulls carbon from the atmosphere. Customers are coming. It's not a matter of "if" but "who". Your choice -- Who do you want to sell your carbon removal credits to? What kind of customer do you want? 

Going for the highest bidder is easy. Today you have the opportunity to get the highest bidder AND ask for more.

From working with startups at AirMiners Launchpad I'm thinking about what kind of a standards would most benefit the creation of more high quality carbon removal startups.

Here's 3 things I want from carbon removal customers:

  1. To help get more startups funded, quality standards be flexible at the beginning for initial capital, say the first $1M of sales. Simple agreements for future carbon.
  2. For the long term success of the industry, a quality bar that quickly scales up as a comapny sells more credits. Verification is critical to get right otherwise we recreate the carbon offsets mess.
  3. All buyers to be as educated and thoughtful as the teams from Microsoft, Stripe, and Shopify. Incentivize investing in the success of the market itself from science to scale up.

This is an opportunity for others besides startups. You're in a town, a city, what kind of carbon removal credits do you want to be produced there? Your bank, your school, what kind of carbon removal credits do you want your organization to purchase? This is how we build a robust carbon removal marketplace with many different stakeholders.

It really comes down to -- What do you want carbon removal markets to look like?


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