EU reaches deal on world’s first carbon removal certification scheme

27 02 2024 | 09:23Frédéric Simon / EURACTIV

European Union legislators reached a political agreement in the early hours of Tuesday (20 February) on a proposal to set up the world’s first registry for certified carbon dioxide removals obtained from eco-farming practices and industrial processes.

Planting trees, which suck CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow, is today the most widespread form of carbon removal, but industrial technologies are also being developed, such as Direct Air Capture (DAC), where giant fans extract CO2 from the atmosphere and store it permanently.

The tentative agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council of EU member states aims to scale up high-quality carbon removal in the EU to reach the Union’s objective of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.

The European Commission tabled the proposal in November 2022. It is the first step towards creating an EU-wide registry that will eventually allow trading of carbon removal units corresponding to one tonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

“Carbon Removals are moving forward!” said MEP Lídia Pereira, the Parliament’s speaker on the proposal, in a reaction posted on X.

The new certification scheme “will prevent greenwashing and foster private investment in carbon removals,” she added, saying this will also help develop the voluntary carbon market.

Four types of removals

The EU’s new framework distinguishes between four types of carbon removals:

  • Permanent carbon removals, such as Direct Air Capture and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, which can store CO2 for several centuries.
  • Temporary carbon storage in long-lasting products such as wood-based construction, for at least 35 years.
  • Temporary carbon storage from carbon farming, such as restoring forests and soil, wetland management, seagrass meadows (minimum five years).
  • Soil emission reduction obtained from carbon farming, such as wetland management, no tilling and cover crop practises (minimum five years).

“The last two activities must last at least five years to be certified and must not lead to land being acquired for speculative purposes negatively affecting rural communities,” reads a statement from the Council of the EU.

Avoided deforestation projects will not be considered for certification. However, EU legislators explicitly added carbon removals from marine environments as eligible within the scope.

“Over time, this will create an important additional business model for farmers and foresters,” commented Wopke Hoekstra, the EU’s climate commissioner.

Certification remains voluntary for the time being. However, only certified units can be used to meet the EU’s climate objectives and nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, the statement adds, incentivising governments to set the ball rolling.

Removals will be subject to monitoring, and operators will be “liable to address any cases of reversal” whereby CO2 is accidentally released back into the atmosphere – for instance, when forests are felled or disappear because of pests or wildfires.

Next step: certification methodologies

The next step is for the Commission to “develop tailored certification methodologies for different types of carbon removal activities” based on four criteria: quantification, additionality, long-term storage, and sustainability.

The Commission is also requested to include “clear liability mechanisms when developing the certification methodologies,” the Council statement says.

An electronic EU-wide registry for certification units is expected to be created “within four years” after the regulation enters into force.

Cover photo: "Carbon Removals are moving forward!" said MEP Lídia Pereira, the Parliament's speaker on the proposal, in a reaction posted on X. [Photo credit: Lídia Pereira / X]