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09 Oct 2020, 13:49
Sören Amelang

Europe and Germany urgently need a strategy for carbon sinks – Energy agency

Zeit Online / Tagesspiegel Background

Europe and Germany both need a strategy for carbon sinks and storage, argue Andreas Kuhlmann, head of Germany's energy agency (dena), and Oliver Geden, researcher at German Institute for International and Security affairs (SWP), in a commentary for Zeit Online. "It will not be possible to eliminate all emissions completely, such as those from agriculture, heavy industry or shipping. We must find a way to balance this," the authors write. Whereas classic climate protection is widely discussed in society, supported by a large number of analyses, studies and strategies, we know too little about carbon sinks and their potential, they write. "The topic should be approached in a structured and strategic way: Germany and the EU need a sinks strategy. A concept is needed that builds on analysis and research, and leads to a roadmap. With concrete goals and corresponding programs," they argue.

Kuhlmann and Geden write that the central questions regarding carbon capture and storage are obvious. "How much sink capacity do we need to become climate-neutral by 2050 - and to remain so after that? What types of sinks do we want? And how can we organise all this in such a way that it also pays off economically?" The authors lament that the German government has not yet presented any concrete analysis of the demand for carbon sinks, and that only a few studies for the EU and individual European countries outline possible paths to climate neutrality. According to available analyses, unavoidable residual emissions will likely end up at around 5-10 percent of 1990 emissions levels. "5-10 percent - that may sound like little. But for Germany alone that would be 60-120 million tonnes per year," corresponding to two to four times more than is currently being extracted from the atmosphere through reforestation and better forest management in the country.

The authors say using forests, which currently represent the most important carbon sink, carries uncertainties as they are vulnerable to droughts and fire. Therefore new concepts and efforts are needed – for example to store CO2 in agricultural areas, or by increasing the use of wood as a building material. Additionally, direct air capture and underground storage, which needs little space but remains expensive, could be an option. "We can't rely on a single technology to reduce emissions, and the same will be true for the development and expansion of carbn sinks," the authors write, concluding that Germny should "no longer stand on the sidelines" and join countries like Sweden, Great Britain or Switzerland in developing national strategies.

Years of protest against industry plans to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a lifeline for coal power made the technology a no-go issue for German politicians. But the new goal of climate neutrality by 2050 forces the country into a fresh debate about dealing with unavoidable CO2 emissions, for example in cement production. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said CCS will be necessary to reach the net-zero target, and her government is looking into tapping the sizeable carbon storage potential under the North Sea. Germany’s energy and economy ministry will launch a new round of debates on usingCCS, which was deemed dead after a 2012 law allowed states to ban the use of underground caverns for storing CO2,  newsletter Tagesspiegel Background reported last week.

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