The European Commission announced on Wednesday the adoption of a proposal for a certification framework aimed at enabling the quantification, monitoring and verification of carbon removals.
The new framework proposal was introduced as part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. While the strategy relies primarily on absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, emissions that cannot be eliminated will need to be balanced out with carbon removals.
Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, said:
“To become climate neutral, deep and drastic emissions cuts will always be the core of our efforts.
“But it is impossible to bring all of our emissions down to zero. So we will need carbon removals as well, through technology or natural carbon sinks.”
According to the landmark IPCC climate change mitigation study released earlier this year, scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C include carbon dioxide removal methods scaling to billions of tons of removal annually over the coming decades.
Carbon removal solutions range from industrial technologies such as Direct Air Capture projects to natural carbon sinks. Financing for carbon removal projects can come from a variety of sources such as carbon credits or government incentives, creating a need for a system to verify and quantify the impact and quality of the projects.
The Commission’s certification proposal details a series of criteria to ensure the quality and comparability of carbon removals, including the need to accurately measure the climate benefits and for the activities to be additive to current practices, a requirement for certificates to be linked to the duration of carbon storage, and for the carbon removal activity to preserve or contribute to sustainability objectives such as climate change adaptation, circular economy, water and marine resources, and biodiversity.
Following the announcement, however, several environmental sustainability-focused groups criticized the Commission’s proposals, claiming that the new rules are too vague and susceptible to greenwashing.
Juliette Lunel, Climate and Land Use Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said:
“With this skeleton proposal the Commission is taking a real leap of faith, leaving all the critical details to be filled in later – including what counts as a removal and what uses any ‘carbon credits’ could be put to.”
The WWF statement added that the Commission’s proposal “missed the opportunity to establish appropriate methodologies and include safeguards,” and does not provide details on key areas such as responsibility for removed carbon that is subsequently released back into the atmosphere.
“Instead of going for a science-based approach, and recognising that removals by forests and other landscapes can’t simply be treated as tonne-for-tonne equivalent to fossil fuel emissions, the Commission proposals seem to pave the way for uncertain carbon offsets to be used to delay climate action elsewhere.”