The European Commission (EC) adopted a proposal on Nov. 30 for the first EU-wide voluntary framework to certify high-quality carbon removals. The proposed regulation aims to improve the European Union’s capacity to quantify, monitor, and verify CO2 removals. The framework, however, drew criticism from non-profits, with Carbon Market Watch saying that it may in fact camouflage climate inaction.
According to EC’s official announcement, “moving forward, the Commission, supported by experts, will develop tailored certification methods for carbon removal activities delivering on climate and other environmental objectives.”
The proposed regulation follows four QU.A.L.ITY criteria:
- Quantification: CO2 removal activities should be measured accurately and bring unambiguous climate benefits;
- Additionality: CO2 removal activities need to go beyond current practices and law requirements;
- Long-term storage: The certificates are linked to the duration of carbon storage in order to ensure permanent storage;
- Sustainability: CO2 removal activities must preserve or contribute to sustainability objectives.
“The European Commission’s blueprint for certifying carbon removals risks turning into a carbon loophole bonanza that will slow down the deep and sustained decarbonization transition the EU urgently needs,” the Carbon Market Watch (CMW) wrote on Nov. 30.
While the proposal is intended to provide a basic framework that will be expanded over time, the absence of details on certain critical issues, such as the role of removals in EU climate action, could undermine the EU’s climate goals, CMW also wrote.
As the proposal steers clean from defining the use, financing, and role of CO2 removals, it could be misused for offsetting fossil fuel emissions rather than rapidly and significantly reducing emissions, the non-profit stated.
“Rather than removing carbon from the atmosphere, this framework risks removing meaningful climate action from the EU policy agenda,” said Sam Van den plas, policy director at Carbon Market Watch. “What matters is what happens in the atmosphere, not what happens in offsetting ledgers. Certifying carbon removals needs to be done in a scientifically credible way for it to make sense for tackling the climate crisis.”
Among the problems that CMW saw with the proposal was that it did not offer “a consistent and robust definition” of CO2 removals and that it grouped together a broad range of activities, without taking into account the different effects they have on climate.
CMW further argued that the Commission did not recognize that permanent storage should be a fundamental criterion for all removals, and wrongfully labeled non-permanent removals as equally valuable as permanent geological storage.
According to the non-profit, including CO2 farming activities in the proposal is also problematic because it ignores the major differences in climate impact between CO2 stored in trees, soil, or peatlands.
The European Commission will continue to fund carbon removal action through the Innovation Fund (which can finance BECCS and DACCS projects, among others), the Common Agricultural Policy, the Regional Development Fund, the LIFE programme, and the Horizon Europe programme.
The proposal will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, and the Commission will work on certification methodologies for the different types of CO2 removal activities, supported by an expert group. The first meeting of the expert group is scheduled for Q1 of next year.