96 academics, businesses, civil society organizations and research institutions sent an open letter to the EU Commission on January 8th, urging to separate emission reduction and carbon removals targets.
The open letter calls for the establishment of three separate targets for emissions reductions, land-based sequestration and permanent carbon removals in the EU’s climate policy after 2030.
The EU Commission is expected to release its Communication for the 2040 EU climate target and an accompanying impact assessment on 6 February 2024. Back in mid-2023, the EU announced it is considering slashing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 90%- 95% by 2040, as it prepares a new goal to curb Europe’s contribution to climate change.
The three separate targets could be part of the setting and accomplishment of the 2040 target and the updated nationally determined contributions (NDC) of the EU and its member states. The letter will remain open for additional signatories until the political process on the 2040 target is finalized.
The goal of the separation of targets for emissions reductions, land sequestration, and carbon removals is to demonstrate the fact that reductions and removals are very different in their nature and impact. According to science and the open letter, it is more detrimental to emit emissions and then remove them rather than not emitting them in the first place. Keeping targets and policy frameworks separate helps clarify this physical principle.
Other benefits of separate targets include:
- Avoiding a slowdown of emissions reduction efforts – net targets would treat carbon sequestration in the land sector and permanent removals the same as substitutes for emissions reductions. This risks “mitigation deterrence” or emission cuts that would happen now to be delayed or replaced by current or promised future removals or sequestration. Treating reductions and removals the same could also risk curbing climate change.
- Identifying a sustainable role for removals – separating land-based sequestration from permanent removals and reductions and establishing targets for each maximizes the benefits of all these activities.
- Providing better governance for land-based sequestration and permanent removals – certain emissions cannot be compensated for by land-based sequestration but rather from permanent carbon removals, so communicating all nuances of removals among other guidances in the climate policy is a must to ensure its efficiency.
- Enhancing certainty for project developers – developers of high-quality land-based carbon sequestration activities and permanent removal methods experience uncertainty due to a lack of strategic vision and policy – a critical problem that needs to be addressed.
As the letter clearly points out, the EU must move beyond a ‘net’ approach when establishing its future climate targets. The current 55% net reduction target is also misleading, as land-based sequestration equates to around 2-3% of the 55% emission reduction target.
“This time round the EU has to get it right. Separate targets are key to the EU realizing its climate responsibilities… With this approach, the EU can become a global climate leader inspiring other countries to show similar climate ambition,” explained Carbon Market Watch carbon removals expert Fabiola De Simone.
“Overreliance on any and all types of carbon storage or sequestration is a real and present risk that must be avoided at all cost in the EUs climate policy framework. Emission cuts must not be replaced by planting trees or permanent removals. Separating targets and policies enables the EU to work on urgently cutting climate destroying pollution, protecting and restoring ecosystems, and understanding and scaling up sustainable permanent removals… The EU needs to work on all three, rather than either/or,” also echoes Wijnand Stoefs, CMW’s lead expert on carbon removals.