EU Lawmakers Agree to Establish Carbon Removal Certification System

Lawmakers in the European Parliament and Council announced today that they have reached a provisional agreement on a new regulation establishing a certification framework for the quantification, monitoring and verification of carbon removals.

The agreement marks a significant step towards the launch of a comprehensive carbon removal and soil emission reduction framework in EU legislation, aimed at increasing the use of carbon removals, while addressing greenwashing concerns and building trust, as well as encouraging the development of carbon removal technologies, and creating income opportunities for industries and land managers deploying carbon removal solutions and engaging in innovative carbon farming practices.

Carbon removal is emerging as a key tool in the fight to address climate change, although most technologies and solutions to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere remain at fairly early stages. According to the landmark IPCC climate change mitigation study released in 2022, scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C include carbon dioxide removal (CDR) 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 initial proposal for the certification framework was announced by the European Commission in 2022, forming 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.

The Commission’s certification proposal detailed 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.

The initial proposal, however, was criticized by environmental sustainability-focused groups, who argued that the new rules were too vague and susceptible to greenwashing.

One of the key aspects of the new agreement is the extension of the scope of the regulation to soil emission reductions, and maintaining an open definition of carbon removals in line with the IPCC, instead of favoring certain types.

The agreed framework also differentiates between categories of carbon removal and emission reduction activities, including permanent carbon removals that store atmospheric or biogenic carbon for several centuries, temporary carbon storage in long-lasting products lasting at least 35 years, temporary carbon storage from carbon farming such as restoring forests and soil, and wetland management, and soil emission reduction from carbon farming.

The agreement maintained the Commission’s criteria of quantification, additionality, long-term storage and sustainability for certification, with the Commission, assisted by an expert group, required to develop tailored certification methodologies for different types of carbon removal activities.

Additionally, the agreement calls on the Commission to include liability mechanisms, such as up-front insurance mechanisms, when developing the certification methodologies, in order to address cases of reversal, in which carbon is released back into the atmosphere during the monitoring period.

With the achievement of the provisional agreement, the new rules will need to be formally adopted by the EU Council and Parliament before entering into force.