Switzerland backs CO2 storage under the sea

Switzerland's national flag flies above a logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse in front of a branch office in Bern, Switzerland 29 November 2022.AFP

Switzerland on Wednesday laid the groundwork to export carbon dioxide (CO2) for storage under the seabed from next year, passing a key amendment to a global ocean protection agreement.

At its weekly meeting, the Federal Council government ratified the 2009 amendment to the London Protocol, it said in a statement.

"From 2024, it will therefore be possible to export CO2 for storage in sub-seabed geological formations," it said.

Of the three major greenhouses gases, CO2 accounts for about 64 percent of the warming effect on the climate.

Carbon capture and storage, a solution aimed at helping halt climate change, involves capturing CO2 emissions at factory smokestacks, turning them into liquid and burying them underground in geological reservoirs.

"Permanent CO2 storage is crucial for achieving both national and international climate objectives," the government said.

"To achieve the goal of long-term net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, Switzerland will also need to use storage sites abroad. One such option is the storage of CO2 in sub-seabed geological formations."

In June, Swiss voters backed a new climate bill aimed at steering their country of melting glaciers towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

The law requires landlocked Switzerland to slash its dependence on imported oil and gas and scale up the development and use of greener and more homegrown alternatives.

Building on the 1972 London convention on marine pollution by dumping waste, the tougher 1996 London Protocol prohibits all dumping, except for "possibly acceptable" wastes on the so-called "reverse list".

The protocol, to which 53 countries are party, expressly prohibits the export of waste or other matter to other countries for dumping or incineration at sea.

However, the 2009 amendment exempts CO2 intended for storage in sub-seabed geological formations from this general export ban.

"By ratifying this amendment, the Federal Council is facilitating the export of CO2 for sub-seabed storage from 2024 onwards, thereby removing a significant barrier to achieving climate neutrality," the government said.

Carbon capture and storage technology is complex and costly, but has been advocated by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency as essential to addressing global warming.

Some environmentalists have however expressed concern about the risk of leaks and warned the technology could provide justification for the continued use of fossil fuels and divert attention away from investments needed in renewable energies.