Action 3: Examining eco-friendly methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere

We will investigate methods of actively extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and identify the most environmentally friendly courses of action.

Where do we stand?

If greenhouse gas reduction measures continue to be insufficient to achieve the goal of being greenhouse gas neutral by 2050, it may be necessary to remove the CO2 emitted in the coming years from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, or CDR for short). At present, however, we do not know whether the risks of the methods necessary to achieve this would be acceptable if CDR were used on a large scale. Future CDR research must therefore go beyond purely techno-economic perspectives to consider aspects of environmental impact, social acceptance and international cooperation, as well as addressing the implications for other UN Sustainable Development Goals and classic climate protection policy. By focussing on this integrative approach sound decisions can be made, including the evaluation, prioritisation and implementation of individual approaches.

What are the research needs?

Theoretical estimates of the potential and risks of CDR methods are already available. Considering that progress in combatting global climate protection is still insufficient, more research must now be devoted to feasibility studies. To do this, we want to focus on the effectiveness and the wider implications of using CDR methods. This includes both individual methods and their use in combination (for example, land-based and oceanic methods). Questions of feasibility arise in particular with regard to the goal of implementing the large-scale use of a method and the long-term nature of CO2 storage. The analysis of the various CDR methods must cover the entire life cycle. Since it is foreseeable that no single CDR method will suffice, more weight must be given to the study and analytical comparison of these methods as a portfolio of options. This analysis and evaluation of the various CDR methods must be weighed in light of the fundamental premise of avoiding greenhouse gas emissions to achieve climate neutrality. The basic tenet is to avoid harmful impacts on ecosystems and to achieve sustainable development.

Implementation steps and milestones

  • In 2020, we launched an interdisciplinary funding programme on CO2 removal from the atmosphere to investigate the potential and risks of a comprehensive portfolio of possible CDR methods.
  • At the same time, we are supporting the exploration of CO2 storage potentials in seas and oceans as part of the interdisciplinary research mission of the German Marine Research Alliance (DAM) entitled ‘Marine Carbon Sinks in Decarbonisation Pathways’.
  • In parallel to this funding programme, we are planning to support the research through comprehensive dialogue with stakeholders in politics, society and industry on the overall topic of CDR, including individual methods. An interdisciplinary support project will embed the topic in the wider climate policy debate.
  • We will present the findings of these funding initiatives in 2024.

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