• Here at GCC, we’ve just released our latest advice on how arts organisations can best spend their money to help avert the climate crisis. Rather than buying carbon offsets – which are problematic for a host of reasons – we suggest that our members set aside money into a Strategic Climate Fund, and spend it on projects that will make a real and measurable difference to the climate crisis within our urgent 2030 timeframe. 


    Some of our members have asked us: what about projects that remove carbon directly from the air? One of the main problems with conventional carbon offsets is that even if they create their promised carbon reductions (a big if), they typically take effect over decades, too late to help with the global halving of carbon emissions by 2030 that we need. But what about projects that are pledging to pull carbon dioxide out of the air right now and store it underground, using “Direct Air Capture and Storage” (DACS) technology?* Could they be a good way to spend our Strategic Climate Funds?


    The short answer to this is: no, we don’t recommend spending SCFs on these particular schemes right now. There are four key reasons for this:

    1. Cost. The only certified project that’s currently open for pulling carbon directly out of the air is run by Climeworks in Iceland. The costs of using its services are reported to be hundreds of US$ per tonne of CO2 removed. Proposals for similar “Direct Air Capture” (DAC) projects elsewhere put the price between US$500 and $1000 per tonne of CO2 removed. For most (if not all) arts organisations, far more carbon dioxide could be saved by spending this money on other measures, improvements or projects instead.

    2. Effectiveness and reliability. This technology is still new and experimental. Once all the energy needed to build and run these carbon removal schemes is taken into account, we don’t yet know how much carbon they’ll really save overall. We also don’t know how permanent they will be – can they definitely bury carbon dioxide underground for the long term? Any leakage of the stored CO2 would be disastrous for the climate (and a threat to local people and nature).

    3. Lack of systemic change. Pulling CO2 out of the air doesn’t help to change the wider energy system (and the political, economic and cultural systems) that are driving the world into climate crisis. At GCC, we strongly recommend spending your SCFs on projects that will cut carbon in the short term while also creating longer term change, whether that’s by actively decarbonising your own operations, helping shift the wider art world onto a more regenerative path, or supporting frontline communities who are fighting to defend forests, keep fossil fuels in the ground and build positive alternatives. 

    4. Climate justice. If arts organisations are able to spend (or raise) money for external projects, GCC would recommend focusing on initiatives that support and empower marginalised peoples, especially those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This way, your money can help communities to tackle a host of other important issues, while still having a greater positive impact on the climate than spending that money on expensive experimental technology. For example, the UN has shown that the most effective way to protect forests is to support the rights of the Indigenous people who live there.

    If we can reduce global emissions at a rapid enough rate – and boost the natural carbon-absorbing ability of forests and soils – then we can minimise the need for these kinds of unproven technologies. To help make this happen, there are many other urgent initiatives where the art world could be spending its money right now to defend the living world, support frontline climate justice struggles, shift society onto a safer path and prevent huge amounts of emissions from going into the air in the first place.


    See our refreshed Strategic Climate Funds guidelines for alternative climate solutions and frontline initiatives that we would recommend for arts organisations. 


    * Note that DACS is just one of a few different types of “carbon capture” technologies that you may have heard about. However, DACS is the only one that is relevant to arts organisations right now, as the others (such as carbon capture from power stations, from bioenergy facilities or in hydrogen production) are processes specific to the energy industry, rather than a service being offered to companies and charities to “remove” their own emissions. For more information on these other carbon capture technologies, see this overview in New Internationalist Magazine.