Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be essential to meet the climate targets, so enabling its deployment at the right time will be decisive. Here, we investigate the still poorly understood implications of delaying CDR actions, focusing on integrating direct air capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (DACCS and BECCS) into the European Union power mix. Under an indicative target of −50 Gt of net CO2 by 2100, delayed CDR would cost an extra of 0.12−0.19 trillion EUR per year of inaction. Moreover, postponing CDR beyond mid-century would substantially reduce the removal potential to almost half (−35.60 Gt CO2) due to the underused biomass and land resources and the maximum technology diffusion speed. The effective design of BECCS and DACCS systems calls for long-term planning starting from now and aligned with the evolving power systems. Our quantitative analysis of the consequences of inaction on CDR—with climate targets at risk and fair CDR contributions at stake—should help to break the current impasse and incentivize early actions worldwide.