Why it takes an offensive to remove carbon dioxide from the air

Dhe climate protection is on the spot, more and more and the salary increases as much as before the pandemic carbon dioxide (CO2) up in the air with nothing and no one suggesting a quick fix. So why not approach things differently? With high-tech, for example? Taking carbon dioxide out of the air on a large scale and using it industrially instead of avoiding it from the outset sounds innovative and doesn’t smell like doing without. There is a great temptation to argue politically in this way and to vote for votes.

And she keeps getting bigger. The report “State of Carbon Dioxide Removal” by a twenty-strong international research group, which claims to have carried out an initial independent evaluation of these technologies, at first glance uses such arguments to make climate protection measures more tolerable. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that even advanced biogeochemical technology does not provide fast, convenient, and safe solutions to the climate problem.

In fact, in its most recent status report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) already assessed the removal of carbon dioxide from the air (“Carbon Dioxide Removal”, CDR) as almost unavoidable: Should the Paris climate targets be – if possible below 2 degrees, ideally a maximum of 1.5 degrees of warming above the pre-industrial level – be achieved, emissions must be reduced to net zero by the middle of the century and part of the carbon dioxide that has been released up to that point and also technically partly unavoidable must be actively removed from the atmosphere and then used or stored for the long term. This is now referred to as “negative emissions”.

The European Union has also set the appropriate course, even before all other Paris contracting parties: Their proposal for the certification of carbon dioxide removal methods is an attempt to develop serious processes and, above all, to promote new, technical processes. These include the incineration and underground dumping of carbon dioxide from bioenergy production, chemical filtration or the direct conversion of carbon dioxide from the air into fuels or chemicals.

Carbon dioxide removal means thinking long-term.

So far, only forestry, which binds carbon dioxide through reforestation, has been taken into account. But farmers could also do more to reduce carbon dioxide gases and replenish the earth’s carbon stores. All of this, both the biological and the purely technical processes, have considerable climate protection potential, as the CDR report makes clear. But they only have one thing: potential.

So far, their share in climate protection measures has been marginal, a large proportion of the technical pilot projects or the first commercial projects that have been started in other countries are either immature, inefficient, and many have even failed economically. Filtering out carbon dioxide, liquefying it, dumping it in underground, former gas or groundwater reservoirs is all complex.

And the reforestation? In fact, it is the largest carbon removal item that appears in the national climate targets of more than a hundred countries that are party to the Paris Agreement. But such “negative emissions” are quickly written down in order to beautify the national climate balance. However, it is hardly feasible to reforest the 1.2 billion hectares of forest that are part of these climate protection promises in the short term. The area roughly corresponds to the currently used agricultural land worldwide or the total area of ​​an entire continent: namely Australia.

Carbon dioxide removal is therefore one thing above all: to think long-term. Which in this case doesn’t mean putting it off. The authors of the CDR report should therefore be grateful to politicians, who often only calculate for the short term, for pointing out that such carbon dioxide removal technologies will only reach technical and economic maturity if investments in this climate protection sector increase quickly and rapidly .

Incidentally, only reforestation has played a role in the German climate protection law so far, and only a small one. And although a strategy for “negative technological emissions” is announced in the traffic light coalition agreement, it has not yet been visibly initiated.

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