Climate change: LMU to coordinate nationwide program on CO2 removal

1 Nov 2021

Ten new joint projects on carbon dioxide removal, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, get underway.

New planting of a forest

© MAGO_blickwinkel / L. F. Postl

Attaining the declared targets necessary to check the rise in global temperature will require massive reductions in CO2 emissions. Indeed, ongoing research on climate change suggests that the measures so far envisaged will not be sufficient. “We must focus more on the removal and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Professor Julia Pongratz, Chair of Physical Geography and Land-Use Systems in the Department of Geography at LMU. “To achieve the further goal of 'negative emissions‘, which Germany aims to reach following the attainment of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045, ways must also be found to capture more greenhouse gases than are emitted.”

Pongratz will coordinate the 20-million-euro program “Carbon Dioxide Removal” (CDR), which begins on 1 November 2021. The nationwide program, which is funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), encompasses 10 joint projects. “Methods for CO2 removal are promising, but they are also associated with risks, which must be very carefully assessed for their impacts on the whole Earth system and on the world’s economic system – and with respect to their social and political feasibility,” Pongratz explains. The program will involve over 100 researchers in all the relevant disciplines – and is the largest research program in the field of CDR in Germany. In addition to established measures, such as reforestation, new technologies for terrestrial, geological and material-based carbon removal and storage will be investigated.


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LMU will lead the integrative CDRSynTra project, which will consolidate the various research efforts. “Our goal is to comprehensively evaluate the potential and the side-effects of the various CO2 removal methods in a consistent way. This will provide the scientific basis for the development of a socially acceptable, and ecologically and economically practical combination of methods for the sequestration of carbon dioxide,” says Pongratz. To ensure that the trajectories envisaged for the mitigation of climate change can be implemented, the whole program will be carried out in close consultation with stakeholders. “Defining the criteria that any useful evaluation framework must take into consideration is a task that can only be undertaken in consultation with the general public, and representatives of the economic and political spheres. That’s why one of the major aims of the project is to communicate the research results as clearly as possible,” says Dr. Felix Havermann, Scientific Coordinator of CDRSynTra.

CDRSynTra will also interface with the project on “Marine Carbon Sinks in Decarbonization Pathways”, which will be carried out by the German Marine Research Alliance. It will provide the scientific synthesis of all available methods of carbon dioxide removal on land and in the oceans, thus allowing them to be evaluated comparatively and in combination.

In addition to LMU, the Climate Service Center Germany, the Deutsches Museum, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, the Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs are participating in CDRSynTra.

Focus on the socioecological feasibility of methods for CO2 removal

In addition to CDRSynTra, another of the 10 joint CDR projects, STEPSEC, will be coordinated by LMU under the lead of Julia Pongratz, Professor Matthias Garschagen (Chair of Human Geography with Focus on Human Interactions with the Environment) and vegetation scientist Dr. Wolfgang Obermeier. Together, they and their colleagues will explore the conditions under which measures such as reforestation, or the production of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, can be implemented in Germany as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Such measures are being widely discussed, partly because they are viewed as ‘natural’ climate solutions, and because they could be realized relatively quickly.

However, the first priority is to evaluate how much CO2 can be realistically absorbed from the atmosphere by these methods, when possible synergies and trade-offs with other sustainability goals are taken into consideration. “We have so far lacked a unified framework that allows us to evaluate the possible conflicts between biodiversity, water supplies, recreational value, economic considerations, and many other issues,” says Matthias Garschagen. So these methods must be critically analyzed with respect to their impacts on the Earth system. In addition, social processes that could be barriers to the implementation of methods for CO2 removal must be considered.

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