Elon Musk has pledged $100 million towards a new global competition that will challenge teams to remove carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.

The SpaceX and Tesla CEO said the XPrize Foundation would run the competition for four years, with an ultimate goal of “carbon negativity, not neutrality”.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Musk said: “This is not a theoretical competition. We want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence.”

Mr Musk, who overtook Jeff Bezos earlier this year to become the world’s richest person, has a net worth in excess of $200 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

As one of the founders of the pioneering online payments platform PayPal, his fortune since has largely been made by betting his proceeds from the sale on futuristic technologies.

As the leading electric car maker, Tesla hopes to create a more environmentally sustainable future on Earth, while SpaceX’s ambition is to transform humanity into a multi-planetary species.

The foundation’s website described the XPrize as the “largest incentive prize in history”, aimed at tackling the “biggest threat” facing humanity.

“The world’s leading scientists estimate that we may need to remove as much as 6 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2030, and 10 gigatons per year by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” the site states.

“For humanity to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to no more than 1.5C of pre-industrial levels, or even 2C, we need bold, radical tech innovation and scale up that goes beyond limiting CO2 emissions, but actually removes CO2 already in the air and oceans.

“This four-year global competition invites innovators and teams from anywhere on the planet to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans ultimately scaling massively to gigaton levels, locking away CO2 permanently in an environmentally benign way.”

Full details of the XPrize will be released on Earth Day on 22 April.