BlogCO2 Management

Turning Germany’s emissions negative 

Written by

Ulf Narloch

Published on

From 2050 onwards, Germany aims to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits. To this end, the federal government is developing a long-term strategy for negative emissions to complement ongoing work on a carbon management strategy. This strategy will include target values for technological removals in 2030, 2040 and 2045.  

Aiming at negative emissions 

Overshadowed by the announcements on CO2 management, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK) has now also published key points for a long-term strategy for negative emissions (LNe). Together, these are intended to enable a climate-neutral and competitive industry. 

The carbon management strategy, which is currently being developed, promotes the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). Its sister strategy for negative emissions, puts the focus on carbon dioxide removals (CDR). 

Such CO2 removals are needed to achieve the climate targets in the Paris Agreement. Both the German Climate Protection Act (KSG) and the European Climate Law (ECL) stipulate negative emissions from 2050.  

A proposal for the 2040 climate target has already been presented at European level. This work envisages annual removals of 400 Mt CO2e.  

These removals include natural and technological carbon sinks. The revised LULUCF Regulation aims to remove 310 Mt of CO2 from the atmosphere annually by 2030 via natural sinks. Technological removals are to be strengthened via the strategy for industrial CO2 management. 

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere 

Germany now pushes forward with a key points for its long-term strategy for negative emissions. In this strategy, CO2 removals are considered separately from approaches for the capture, utilisation and storage of CO2. The latter prevent emissions, but do not remove any additional CO2 from the atmosphere.  

Targets for negative emissions 

Germany wants to cut emissions by 65% in 2030 compared to 1990 leaving 438 Mt CO2e. in 2045, emissions should be net-zero. From 2050, CO2 removals should overcompensate any remaining emissions.  

Paragraph 3a of the KSG already sets targets for land and forestry. Currently, the land sector has a balanced emissions balance. In 2030, it should absorb 25 Mt CO2e more than it emits; in 2045 it should be 40 Mt CO2e.  

In addition, the long-term strategy sets: 

  1. Target values for technological withdrawals for the years 2035, 2040 and 2045 
  1. An overall target for net negative emissions in 2060 

These goals are to be achieved by developing and scaling up technologies that can effectively and economically remove CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Technologies for negative emissions 

The long-term strategy pursues a technology-neutral approach. It covers: 

  1. Forests and afforestation: Germany’s forests already absorb 43 Mt of CO2 per year.  
  1. Peatlands: Rewetting can prevent emissions from peatland sinks. 
  1. Soil management: Improved soil cultivation increases carbon sequestration.  
  1. Marine biomass: Photosynthesis in the oceans binds CO2. 
  1. Biomass production: Plants bind CO2, which can be utilised as a material or for energy. 
  1. Material biomass: Long-term use, e.g. wood in construction, delays the release of CO2. 
  1. Biochar: Plant carbon is bound long-term through carbonisation. 
  1. BECCS: CO2 from bioenergy is captured and stored.  
  1. WACCS: CO2 from thermal waste treatment is captured for storage. 
  1. DACCS: CO2 is captured directly from the air and stored.  
  1. CCU: CO2 as a raw material is permanently bound in products.  
  1. Enhanced weathering: CO2 is bound in mineral substance and thus removed from the atmosphere. 

Not all of these technologies result in negative emissions per se. Some represent intermediate steps in the process. 

Economic incentives for negative emissions 

The long-term strategy will also examine models to provide the necessary economic incentives for the expansion of these technologies, such as  

  1. Integration into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by adapting the Emissions Trading Directive 
  1. State funding instruments that subsidise such technologies 

In the long term, a market framework is to be developed that can ensure negative emissions even without these instruments.  

Governance framework for negative emissions 

The key points emphasise the need for a coherent governance framework to achieve removal targets. The strategy should develop: 

  1. Proposals for new rules and regulatory adoptions  
  1. Monitoring and certification methods building on the EU’s emerging Carbon Removal Certification Framework 
  1. Sectoral balancing methods concerning the energetic and material utilisation of wood and CO2 cycles  

The long-term strategy is to be evaluated and updated every two years. 

Need for coordination of strategic initiatives  

The development of the long-term strategy is now being driven forward under the leadership of the BMWK. Relevant federal ministries, such as for finance, for environment, and for agriculture are involved. Representatives from civil society, businesses and science will be engaged in a dialogue process. 

This strategy is also to be embedded in ongoing processes. At national level, these include: 

  1. Carbon Management Strategy (CSM) for the capture, utilisation and storage of CO2 
  1. System Development Strategy (SES) for a robust cross-sector transformation of the energy system 
  1. National Biomass Strategy (NABIS) for sustainable, efficient and climate-friendly biomass production and utilisation 
  1. National Bioeconomy Strategy (NBÖS) for the high-quality and sustainable use of biogenic resources and biological knowledge 
  1. German Sustainability Strategy (DNS) for economically efficient, socially balanced and ecologically compatible development in line with the SDGs  

These processes should be completed in 2024. So, the first challenge for negative emissions in Germany lies in coordinating a wide range of strategic projects in order to create a consistent framework without conflicting objectives. 

Sources and further information: 

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