Role of carbon and long-term mitigation strategies beyond 2050 through CCU and C³

  • 11 November 2016

Effective climate protection requires a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions including CO2. Additionally, we need to maintain economic growth and development, provide an adequate standard of living for a growing and ageing world population in a sustainable manner.

A major strategy is the use of renewable energies instead of fossil-fuel based energy, which is the predominant source of carbon emissions today. Other strategies especially in the short to medium term include using more gas and other fuels lower in GHG emissions, and focusing on energy efficiency to reduce energy demand or also CCS where appropriate.

But not all greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided by a fuel switch. When carbon is used for its chemical properties or where carbon is an unavoidable component of an indispensable input material, then it cannot be readily substituted. There are many examples of such cases which are essential for our modern society. Examples include the manufacturing of chemicals and pharmaceuticals (carbon is an integral part of the product), or the production of cement or lime (the raw materials contains CO2).

For such non-energy applications, an alternative mitigation strategy is CCU (carbon capture and use) which in the long-run needs to be embedded in a truly circular economy. CO2 can be captured and reused as a valuable raw material. This can be carbon-neutral if the required energy is provided from renewable sources or other energy sources without GHG emissions. However, the technologies, business models and infrastructure will take decades to be developed and installed. But in order to have it ready when it is needed, political attention and the appropriate policies and regulatory framework are needed today. This focused discussion could start at COP 21 with enhanced recognition of CCU as a valuable option in a global climate agreement– rather than yielding to pressures to ban the use of carbon as such completely.

There is a major difference between carbon-free and carbon-neutral. Neither life nor prosperity without carbon is possible – but it is possible to avoid releasing fossil CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

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