For more than a decade, the Greens have opposed storing CO2 in the ground. Now the Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck is suddenly favoring this technology. What is behind this renewed, surprising change of course in climate policy?

After several years of resistance and several curious U-turns in energy and environmental policy, the Greens have now changed course again. It has now become known that the Federal Ministry of Economics, led by Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens), supports the controversial storage of CO2 in the ground to reduce the carbon dioxide content in the air. The “Welt” recently reported on a corresponding report.

According to a previously unpublished draft of the “Report on the Carbon Dioxide Storage Act”, reducing CO2 emissions still has priority. However, in order to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality as quickly as possible, there is a consensus in current studies that “carbon capture and storage” technology (CCS), as CO2 storage in the ground is called.

When Habeck was still head of the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein, he clearly rebuffed CCS technology in 2009. “Schleswig-Holstein is the state of renewable energies and not a dump for CO2,” said the Green at the time against plans to build a CO2 repository in his state. Three months ago, this harsh quote from Habeck could still be read on the website of the “Green North Friesland” district association. In the meantime there is no trace of the sentence.

Habeck and his ministry plan to use the CCS process “above all as a supplement to reducing emissions from industrial processes and waste incineration that are technically difficult to avoid,” the “Welt” continues to quote from the draft report. This sudden pragmatism is probably due to the realization that the Greens, now that they are in government responsibility, can no longer deny that it will not be possible to achieve the Paris climate target without CCS procedures. The UN climate conference in the French capital decided in 2015 to reduce global greenhouse emissions to such an extent that the earth’s climate would not increase by more than 1.5 degrees by the year 2100.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, scientists assume that by separating CO2 from burning fossil fuels and then storing it underground, up to 80 percent of the carbon dioxide can be permanently removed from the atmosphere. But even Germany’s central environmental authority notes critically that there is still no proof that CCS technology “can keep this promise”.

In particular, the office classifies “the enormous additional energy consumption for the separation, the transport and the storage” as “problematic”. According to an assessment from May 2022, CCS technology increases the consumption of limited fossil raw materials by up to 40 percent.

In some federal states, such as Saxony and Brandenburg, it was planned to press the CO2 produced by lignite-fired power plants into empty gas bubbles in the earth’s crust. However, it is controversial whether CO2 stored in such bubbles can remain permanently and completely.

The Federal Office for the Environment notes that further risks would arise, for example, from leaks for the groundwater and the soil, which could release pollutants in the subsoil and displace salty groundwater from deeper aquifers. For this reason, several federal states continue to resist CCS technology to this day. However, other countries are much further along. In addition to the USA, Norway in particular is regarded as a pioneer in Europe for this technology, which in the future is also to make a contribution in Germany to permanently removing CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, at least in the area of ​​problematic industries.