Capturing carbon with nature

How do we clean up 1,500 gigatons of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in a sustainable, scalable and cost-effective way? Climate Cleanup believes the solution lies in nature.

Sven Jense founded the member-funded non-profit Climate Cleanup in 2018 after feeling compelled to take action on the climate crisis. He began connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs who also felt the key to reversing climate change went beyond stopping carbon emissions. Solutions could restore the Earth’s balance by embracing the carbon-storing potential of nature.

If we want to keep global warming to below 1,5C by 2030, nature-based solutions can make a big impact. But these solutions attract only 3% of climate-focused funding.

If we want to keep global warming to below 1.5C by 2030, nature-based solutions can make a big impact. But these solutions attract only 3% of climate-focused funding.

Climate Cleanup aims to bridge this gap so that natural solutions reach a meaningful scale, and in a desperately quick time. 

Hanny van Hout, operations director at Climate Cleanup, explained: “Nature already has lots of solutions to get CO2 out of the atmosphere. We try to help the entrepreneurs that are already working on the most scalable solutions. We do scientific research, we do actual interventions with provinces, entrepreneurs or corporations, and we do a lot of storytelling and try to imagine what the world would look like if we restore nature.”

Researching and scaling solutions

Climate Cleanup field work Amsterdam

At Prodock, the innovative hub of the Port of Amsterdam, Climate Cleanup works with experts and entrepreneurs on scalable methods. These include using carbon-capturing seaweed and rock weathering with olivine (a mineral which in sand form absorbs and stores CO2), and regenerative agroforestry (growing trees and crops on the same land). 

Importantly, they only work with methods that have the potential to scale up substantially and fit within the doughnut model – also adopted by the City of Amsterdam – that ensures activity meets society’s needs while respecting the limits of the planet.

Climate Cleanup’s research and initiatives aim to be open, simple and holistic. For example, its open carbon accounting tool, ONCRA, provides a simple method for entrepreneurs to calculate and verify nature-based carbon removal and its added benefits, like increased biodiversity. 

Climate Cleanup operations director Hanny van Hout

Hanny explains: “Lots of [entrepreneurs] were already in the startup phase but needed to scale up. We try to help the scaling go as fast as possible, so that's why we are so open with knowledge sharing. That's why everything we do is open source and available for everybody.”

Innovation and collaboration in Amsterdam

Climate Cleanup is a prime example of Amsterdam’s connected ecosystems, where public institutions and private companies come together to innovate and solve global challenges.

“Prodock is a great innovative space,” Hanny says. “If you're open to innovation and you open yourself and your environment up, you attract other innovations. Amsterdam is a free-spirited city, it has always been that way, that makes it fairly easy to move around. It's relatively small but it's really international, you can find every business, every headquarters in the Amsterdam Area. There are also different hubs, more on cultural, more on innovation, on nature, on tech – it's easy to connect the different dots.”

Climate Cleanup climate lab Amsterdam Prodock

Looking ahead, the foundation wants to continue creating the right conditions, such as carbon accounting methods, for nature-focused entrepreneurs to unlock capital so that solutions thrive.

It also plans to open a social enterprise fund to attract investors in natural carbon removal. In addition, the climate lab at Prodock is expanding to research solutions in olivine, climate crops, vertical farming and bio-based construction.

“There's so much we want to do. Actually doing stuff gets you away from panic,” Hanny says. “One of the key reasons why [one of the founders] Sven started working [on this] was that he started in panic mode, being depressed about it. He started reading everything and then he thought, 'OK, what can I do, what is already being done,’ and then you find loads of people who have really good solutions, and we realised that together they start forming a whole new economic sector – and then you start to act.” 

Read more about the renewable energy and cleantech sectors in Amsterdam.