CO2 emissions
We can remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere in very different ways. For exampel planting new forests, absorbing CO2 directly from the ambient air by means of a chemical reaction with subsequent geological storage, and as a hybrid option, BioEnergy generation can be coupled with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS),
P​hoto: Shutterstock​

Must some countries do more than others?

If we are to meet the climate goals, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we need to capture some of the carbon dioxide that we have already released to the atmosphere. This is a big challenge.
We had a chat with climate scientist Sabine Fuss, who holds Chalmers Jubilee professorship 2019.
Sabine Fuss“My research has been focused on deep decarbonisation in recent years – especially in the context of the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement. In particular, I have been assessing the potential and costs of technologies and practices for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a lead author of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C Global Warming”, says professor Sabine Fuss, head of a working group on sustainable resource management at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. 

She is also one of Chalmers´ four Jubilee Professors in 2019. The Department of Space, Earth and Environment is her host. 

What has the cooperation with the scientist at Chalmers meant to you? 
“Just coming out of the IPCC process and having developed a lot of expertise on deep decarbonization pathways and carbon removal technologies, I brought with me both bottom-up knowledge and a systems perspective of the Paris challenge. Being an economist by background, I hope that I managed to complement the expertise of my Chalmers colleagues, jointly taking the work I had previously done further. In particular, we took first steps at conceptualizing the policies needed to move towards implementation, benefiting both from the exchange with the very experienced Chalmers researchers as well as ongoing reflections on the Swedish plans to go carbon-negative”, she says.
In the near future, she hope to take these insights back to the international context and also return to Chalmers for the International Conference on Negative Emissions next May.

” It has been a great pleasure and benefit for us to have Sabine here”, says Daniel Johansson, Associate Professor, Department of Space, Earth and Environment at Chalmers.
He has known Sabine since 2007 when both were at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis IIASA in Austria. They collaborated in a project on investments in electricity production carried out given uncertainty in future CO2 prices.
“Sabine has since then developed into one of the leading researchers in the world on issues related to investments under uncertainty as well as on issues related to negative CO2 emissions. It was her focus on the latter subject that was the main reason why she came here as a Jubilee professor”, says Daniel. 

How can we achieve negative emissions? 
“We can remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere in very different ways. For example: 
  • Planting new forests leads to sequestration of CO2 through photosynthesis, 
  • Absorbing CO2 directly from the ambient air by means of a chemical reaction with subsequent geological storage. 
  • As a hybrid option, BioEnergy generation can be coupled with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), so that the CO2 sequestered in the additionally grown biomass does not escape into the atmosphere but is instead captured and locked away”, Sabine Fuss says.
Sabine says we have to keep in mind that practices and technologies, which are associated with additional needs for land, for example for afforestation or growing biomass for BECCS, have been debated controversially. This is because land is a finite resource that will also be needed for other policy goals such as conserving biodiversity, producing food for a growing population, and so on. 

“But they can indeed complement each other: by composing a careful portfolio of options, we can decrease risks to a certain extent. The best way to mitigate climate change remains to avoid emitting CO2 in the first place, of course!” 

If we have to be carbon-negative must some countries do more than others?
“Carbon-neutrality is a necessary condition for keeping our option to reach the 1.5°C target open. However, uncertainties surround the amount of CO2 that we are still allowed to emit, the so-called carbon budget. This makes it difficult to predict exact years in which carbon-neutrality must be reached. If we are to be carbon-neutral around mid-century, we will need to remove any emissions that still occur after that point. Who exactly will need to go carbon-negative depends on technology and potential as much as distributional considerations”, Sabine Fuss explains. 
The implementation will ultimately happen in industry and individual companies, but politicians will have to set the governance framework and create the incentives. 

What concrete action do you see as a first step?
“An enquiry of the scope carried out in Sweden at the moment – which maps out both technology roadmaps and policy options – is needed to move forward. Close interaction of government, industry and society will be needed to determine the viable pathways to carbon-neutrality”. 

Fossil Free Sweden is an initiative to encourage business sectors to draw up their own roadmaps as to how they will be fossil free while also increasing their competitiveness. Currently, thirteen roadmaps have been handed over to the Swedish Government and more are in progress.

What role can researchers take to drive the development?
“Researchers can help the dialogue described above by compiling the relevant knowledge and mapping the different pathways to 1.5°C. In our work we find that there is a gap in knowledge when it comes to implementation of carbon removal technologies and practices and active research is needed to enable policymakers and industry to take the next steps”.

RELATED:
Together with Christian Azar and Ottmar Edenhofer, she wrote an debate article in Svenska Dagbladet: 

​By: Ann-Christine Nordin,
Photo Sabine Fuss: David Ausserhofer.

Published: Thu 28 Nov 2019.