Postcards from Berlin: Putting carbon back where it came from

walk it back
3 min readMar 27, 2023

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Airing debates around carbon removal in Berlin

In March the walk it back campaign arrived in Berlin. Given Germany’s historic leadership on the green agenda (ex Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was often referred to as the “Climate Chancellor” for her long-standing international action on emission cuts), we were looking forward to understanding how carbon removal was being integrated into Net Zero planning.

Hosted by our brilliant partners at the Open Air Collective (OAC), we heard that while the imperative of carbon removal is being talked about in lots of high level policy circles, it is still a new concept for most of the public. Chris Neidl pointed out that, just as with the solar energy revolution, it’s only once people can see and touch real projects in action that they can start understanding a topic like carbon removal.

In fact, there are a few glimpses of a new start up culture starting to emerge. In fact, one local company based in Berlin, Neo Carbon, is dramatically cutting the costs of Direct Air Capture by using existing cooling towers around Europe to capture and remove carbon at a much reduced cost. Smart, huh?

Airing debates around carbon removal

However, climate policy expert, Christoph Meyer, explained that the notion of putting carbon into the ground, back to where it came from, can raise alarm bells for people in Germany. It reminds voters of the debates about nuclear waste, which inspired the environmental movement in the country.

Our natural systems store carbon dioxide in all sorts of places — natural carbon sinks are everywhere — so it is critical to help citizens understand distinction between waste and carbon storage. In fact, just recently, Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and climate minister, noted “putting CO2 under the ground is quite simply better than releasing it into the atmosphere”, which is why the government is now working on a new carbon management strategy as a top priority.

Fast and slow carbon cycles

During the dialogue, we talked through some of the different carbon removal solutions including more nature based carbon removal options such as afforestation and kelp farming, and then more hybrid versions including biochar and rock mineralisation — and the ways by which carbon dioxide can be liquidised or mineralised.

Eadbhard Pernot, Policy Manager at the Clean Air Taskforce, explained that people can easily muddle nature’s different carbon cycles — there’s the relatively swift carbon cycle as plants grow and die, and then a much slower process whereby rocks and oceans mineralise and absorb carbon over millennia. One of the distinctions of carbon removal, as opposed to carbon capture and storage, is that it removes CO2 from smokestack rather than from the atmosphere.

So with some of these issues on the table, is carbon removal on the cards for Berlin? Our next stop was to talk to the Green Party. Watch this space to find out what they said…

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walk it back

walk it back is a bold new climate campaign calling for a global step-change in carbon removal