Seminar: Towards the Net-Negative Carbon Economy

October 16, 2023, 2:00PM, Lewis Hall (RGL) 318


Join the USC Center for Sustainability Solutions for a seminar with Professor Michael Obersteiner, Director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. Professor Obersteiner is an internationally renowned scientist who has been a key researcher in global issues related to food, agriculture and climate change. Space is limited.


The carbon budget in line with the Paris Climate Agreement is about to be exhausted. Essentially, from now on every tonne of carbon emitted will need to be removed again from the atmosphere. Currently there are no economic provisions made to drive a net-negative carbon economy. Traditional mechanisms are unlikely to ensure the financial viability of costly Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) required to compensate for carbon debt. In this talk, we introduce a novel intertemporal economic instrument that revolves around the concept of ‘Carbon Removal Obligations’ (CROs). This model assigns responsibility for carbon removal to emitters and provides a market-driven incentive to repay accrued physical carbon debt.

We evaluate the efficacy of this approach by analyzing its impact on both short-term decarbonization and long-term CDR deployment. Addressing concerns of financial default by carbon debtors, our model incorporates a unique pricing strategy for atmospheric CO2 storage, levying interest on carbon debt. Contrary to existing literature, our findings demonstrate that the interest payments associated with CROs catalyze more aggressive, near-term decarbonization efforts and might obviate the need for drastic future CDR actions.

We argue that for the achievement of stringent climate targets and for equitable mitigation across generations, Carbon Removal Obligations must be incorporated into the global climate and macro-economic policy toolkit. This talk provides actionable insights to establish a new financial architecture to operationalize a net-negative carbon economy ensuring to attain ambitious global climate mitigation targets and potentially avoid a dangerous climate overshoot.

About Professor Michael Obersteiner:

Michael Obersteiner is the Director of the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

His research experience stretches from biophysical modelling in the areas of ecosystems, forestry and agriculture to economics, finance and integrated assessment, and he works across ECI’s research themes.

Professor Obersteiner joins the institute from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), where he was the Director of the Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM) Program. He joined the IIASA Forestry Program in 1993 and has been leading and developing the ESM Program, which is currently the largest research program at IIASA, since 2011.

Professor Obersteiner’s background includes the fields of global terrestrial ecosystems and economics, having completed graduate studies both in Austria (BOKU University and Institute for Advanced Studies Vienna) and abroad (Columbia University, New York and Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk).

Under his leadership several national and international organizations, including inter alia the European Commission, WWF, OECD, and other national and international institutions have received science-based policy advice using quantitative modelling techniques. He is author of over 250 scientific papers and is a highly-cited researcher – ranking in the top 1% of citations in the Web of Science according to Clarivate research.

To RSVP, email Jennifer Sosenko,