Europe mulls stripping carbon from the skies

Photo: politico

 

Cutting emissions isn’t enough to tackle global warming, so the EU is taking a closer look at how to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon removal schemes range from planting lots of trees to more experimental methods to artificially suck up carbon. Some of those ideas are grouped under the label geoengineering, something that’s long been anathema because of fears that overt tinkering with the planet could lead to catastrophe.

The topic is on the table because it’s becoming clear that existing policies focused on reducing emissions won’t cut it. Increasing energy efficiency and building wind and solar farms alone will fall short of the aspirational goal of the Paris climate agreement to keep global warming at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Even so, the shift to considering CO2 removal is highly controversial for many green campaigners. They worry that it lets governments and energy companies off the hook. And having worked for years to push climate change up the political agenda, they are suspicious of any approach that might take the urgency out of transforming the global economy from running on fossil fuels. That worry is all the more acute because the technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere is in most cases far from proven.

“Any scenario close to 1.5 degrees [requires a] pretty radical overhaul in the way we think about economic solutions,” Elina Bardram, the EU’s negotiator in climate talks, told POLITICO. “Geoengineering is relatively unchartered territory and has not been actively considered among EU policy options.”

European countries are still very wary of more experimental ideas for engineering the climate.

That’s now changing — at least when it comes to less controversial methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The European Commission is due to present a first draft of the EU’s mid-century emissions reduction strategy before December’s global climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

As part of that, the Commission began work this summer on a carbon removal strategy, and for the first time is seeking views on possible options to suck up carbon, including “intensive” efforts to plant new trees, using forests and croplands, and “direct air capture” of carbon. It’s also testing public views on various carbon capture and storage (CSS) technologies, where carbon is caught, often from industrial smokestacks, and sequestered underground.

One of the options being considered by the Commission is a policy of “net zero emissions” by 2050. That means the EU would emit as much greenhouse gas as it absorbs.

“As well as reducing emissions, we must also look at how to absorb emissions in order to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions,” the bloc’s climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete said at a July conference on the planned mid-century emissions strategy.

Reducing greenhouse gases isn’t enough

Whatever the worries about diverting effort from cutting fossil fuel use, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) argued in early July that there is no other viable option. “Carbon dioxide removal is … no longer a choice, but a necessity for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” it wrote in a commentary to accompany a paper in Nature Climate Change.

The JRC said that none of the scenarios scientists modeled were able to achieve a 1.5 degree target without using some negative emissions technology. That includes a wide range of options, such as planting trees, restoring marine habitats, and burning crops or waste for energy and CCS technology — although carbon capture hasn’t shown itself to be commercially viable despite years of tests.

Ongoing work on the EU’s long-term strategy “could be the beginning of integrating [carbon dioxide removal] into EU climate policy,” said Oliver Geden, one of the lead authors of the upcoming IPCC report and currently a visiting fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.

Until now, he says, “the political establishment has been ignoring the topic.”

“It sounds so much like science fiction,” Geden said. “Adding trees — people can still imagine that. But when you look at the technology in the [climate] models, bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and storage — that doesn’t have a very good reputation.”

Radical ideas

European countries are still very wary of more experimental ideas for engineering the climate.

Some scientists talk of putting mirrors in space to deflect the rays of the sun; spraying sulfur high in the atmosphere to seed clouds; or dumping iron into the sea to foster growth of carbon-absorbing algae.

But those ideas of overt climate manipulation are still far from the mainstream policy agenda. In early August, Germany decided that ocean seeding will only be allowed for research purposes and under strict conditions.

Germany’s Greens-affiliated Heinrich Boll Stifung, together with ETC Group and Biofuelwatch, has warned that geoengineering is “increasingly being pushed into the mainstream of climate policy debates, where it creates the illusion of a technological shortcut to manage the symptoms of climate change without addressing its root causes.”

Campaigners worry that betting on technological fixes to global warming will reduce any incentive on governments, companies and people to phase out fossil fuels, reform industrial production and change modern lifestyles.

“Geoengineering poses many risks for people, ecosystems and security. It relies on excessive land, water and resource consumption, threatens food security, and undermines democratic control over the world’s commons,” they said.

The fact that EU policymakers are now contemplating geoengineering — even in its mildest form — is an indication of how difficult the Paris goals will be to achieve.

But others say the situation is so dire that it is necessary to have a discussion about the available options.

“There is a lot of confusion about what geoengineering is and what it is not,” said Janos Pasztor, a Carnegie Council senior fellow and director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance project.

“Some people think it’s the magic solution,” he said. “Others, however, say, ‘Over my dead body — this is the craziest thing that man could engineer the climate of the entire earth.’”

The reality is somewhere in between. But the fact that EU policymakers are now contemplating it — even in its mildest form — is an indication of how difficult the Paris goals will be to achieve.

Source :

politico

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


2 + 13 =