Scenarios for meeting ambitious climate targets rely on large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies (NETs), including direct air capture (DAC). However, the tradeoffs between food, water and energy created by deploying different NETs are unclear. Here we show that DAC could provide up to 3 GtCO2 yr−1 of negative emissions by 2035—equivalent to 7% of 2019 global CO2 emissions—based on current-day assumptions regarding price and performance. DAC in particular could exacerbate demand for energy and water, yet it would avoid the most severe market-mediated effects of land-use competition from bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and afforestation. This could result in staple food crop prices rising by approximately fivefold relative to 2010 levels in many parts of the Global South, raising equity concerns about the deployment of NETs. These results highlight that delays in aggressive global mitigation action greatly increase the requirement for DAC to meet climate targets, and correspondingly, energy and water impacts.