Germany to allow carbon capture, underwater storage

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In a significant shift towards achieving its ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, Germany announced plans to embrace carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for specific industrial sectors. This decision marks a turning point in the country’s climate strategy, acknowledging the limitations of complete electrification in certain industries while seeking innovative solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Targeted application: The focus of CCS technology will be on “hard-to-abate” sectors like cement production, where current technology doesn’t yet allow for complete elimination of CO2 emissions, as stated by Economy Minister Robert Habeck: “CO2-intensive industries that cannot be electrified, such as cement and lime, will be among the sectors which benefit.” This targeted approach aims to bridge the gap in achieving carbon neutrality by addressing emissions that traditional methods cannot fully capture.

Sub-seabed storage: Captured CO2 will be transported and stored in designated areas beneath the seabed within Germany’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Sea. This approach aims to ensure safe and long-term storage of the captured carbon dioxide, minimizing the risk of re-emission into the atmosphere. However, on-land storage remains prohibited, as Habeck clarified: “On-land carbon storage will remain banned unless the federal states ask Berlin to make it possible.

Legislative framework and international cooperation: To facilitate the implementation of CCS, amendments to the existing Carbon Dioxide Storage Act are necessary. Additionally, Germany needs to ratify an amendment to the London Protocol, an international treaty governing marine dumping, specifically for the transportation of CO2 for sub-seabed storage, as mentioned in a paper from the Ministry of Economic Affairs: “Before exporting CO2 abroad, Berlin needs to ratify a clause in the London Protocol international treaty on cross-border waste exports […] to allow transportation of CO2 for sub-seabed storage.” This highlights the importance of international collaboration in ensuring the responsible and safe utilization of CCS technology.

Mixed reactions and ongoing challenges: While the decision has been welcomed by affected industries like cement manufacturing, with Dominik von Acht, head of the cement manufacturer Heidelberg Materials, calling it “an important milestone for the decarbonization of the industry,” environmental groups remain cautious. Concerns surrounding the technology’s long-term safety, potential environmental risks, and significant costs associated with implementation have been voiced. Deutsche Umwelthilfe Managing Director Sascha Mueller-Kraenner expressed these concerns in a statement: “We call on the federal cabinet and Bundestag (lower house of parliament) not to agree to this proposal.” Addressing these concerns through transparent communication and robust regulations will be crucial in gaining public acceptance.

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A pragmatic approach and a global precedent: Germany’s decision to embrace CCS reflects a pragmatic approach to tackling the complex challenge of climate change, as highlighted by Habeck: “With the carbon management strategy and the carbon dioxide storage law, ‘a pragmatic and responsible directional decision was made.’” Recognizing the limitations of existing solutions and exploring diverse avenues for emission reduction demonstrates the country’s commitment to achieving its ambitious climate goals. The success of this approach, while facing challenges, could pave the way for other nations grappling with similar difficulties in achieving carbon neutrality. Germany’s journey with CCS technology will be closely watched by the global community, potentially influencing future climate strategies across the world.