Bioenergy and Carbon Capture with Storage (BECCS) and its Potential Implications for Human Rights

Image Courtesy of the International Energy Agency

When? 4pm CEST on 24 June 2022

Where? Register for this event on Zoom using this link –

The Paris Agreement contemplates that its Parties will balance emissions and sinks by 2050 as a means to effectuate its temperature goals. Most of the IPCC’s AR5 scenarios that achieve these targets contemplated the large-scale deployment of so-called “negative emissions technologies,” with an emphasis on bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and to a lesser degree, afforestation and reforestation. BECCS could assuredly help society avoid passing critical climatic thresholds, or address overshoot scenarios. However, this option could also profound implications for food production and food prices, the status of forests, access to lands for livelihoods by vulnerable populations, and the integrity of critical ecosystems and biodiversity. This, in turn, could have serious ramifications for the human rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The Preamble to the Paris Agreement acknowledges the need to take into consideration the potential impact of responses to climate change, providing that “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.” This lecture will outline how application of a human rights-based approach (HRBA) could provide a mechanism to reconcile the objectives of ameliorating potential climatic impacts with negative emissions while protecting the human rights of potentially affected individuals and groups. It will also briefly suggest how to operationalize this approach within the Paris Agreement framework, developing an HRBA schema that could be utilized to scrutinize proposals for carbon dioxide removal research and/or deployment.


Dr. Wil Burns

Dr. Wil Burns is a Visiting Professor in the Environmental Policy & Culture program at Northwestern University. Prior to this, he served as the co-founding Director of the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy at American University, and founding Director of the Energy Policy & Climate program at Johns Hopkins University. He has also taught at the University of Chicago, Stanford University, and the University of California-Berkeley. He also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Policy for the state of Wisconsin and worked in the environmental non-profit sector for more than twenty years.

His service work includes previously serving as the Co-Chair of the International Environmental Law Section of the American Branch of the International Law Association, and as President of the Association of Environmental Studies & Sciences (AESS). He was the 2019 recipient AESS’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Scholarship and Service in the field. His research agenda includes: climate geoengineering, climate loss and damage, and the effectiveness of the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. He received his Ph.D. in International Law from the University of Wales-Cardiff School of Law and is the author of more than 85 publications.

Recommended Readings

Wil Burns & Toby Bryce, New York’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, (2022) illiminem

Matthias Honegger, Wil Burns & David R. Morrow, Is carbon dioxide removal ‘mitigation of climate change’? RECIEL. 2021;30:327–335

Wil Burns, Seeing the Forest for the Trees?: The Role of Afforestation and Reforestation in Combating Climate Change (2021) American Bar Association

Wil Burns, Human Rights Dimensions of Bioenergy With Carbon Capture and Storage: A Framework for Climate Justice in the Realm of Climate Geoengineering, in Climate Justice: Case Studies in Global and Regional Governance Challenges (Randall Abate, ed. 2016, Environmental Law Institute)

Wil Burns and Charles R. Corbett, Antacids for the Sea? Artificial Ocean Alkalinization and Climate Change, One Earth 3, 2020.

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