The European Union’s plans this week to certify removals of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have met with widespread criticism from climate activists.
Key details of the proposals will be worked out later, including how these removals will be counted towards EU climate change targets.
The European Commission proposal, if approved by EU countries and lawmakers, would lay the groundwork for a government-approved certificate for carbon removals.
Removals include carbon held in soils and forests, or CO2 sucked out of the air by technologies and stored underground or in construction materials.
While some voluntary certification schemes already exist, allowing project developers to sell carbon removals credits to companies seeking to offset their emissions, Brussels wants to create a more widely used and trusted standard.
However, the proposals have come under attack.
Lucy Cadena, the coordinator of the Real Zero Europe campaign, said: “Instead of tackling climate breakdown head on, the Commission’s proposal could jeopardise our chances of keeping below 1.5 degrees of warming. They claimed that this framework would regulate removals to avoid greenwash – yet it opens up space for more fossil fuel prolonging technologies like carbon dioxide removal and carbon capture and storage. Pushed by big polluters, this risks propelling the planet past a point of no return.”
Lili Fuhr, deputy director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), added: “The European Commission’s proposal to certify carbon removals offsets goes against what science tells us is necessary and possible to limit warming to 1.5°C. By betting on fossil fuel prolonging technologies like carbon capture and storage, speculative carbon dioxide removals, and land offsets, this proposal undermines the EU’s own commitment to the European Green Deal.”
“The only certain path to avoid temperature overshoot and irreversible impacts is a rapid fossil phase-out and a fast, just, and equitable energy transition. We need the EU to back real climate solutions.”
The EU has committed to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels, and reach “net zero” emissions by 2050 – meaning that any remaining emissions that cannot be completely cut in sectors like agriculture or cement making must be balanced by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The EU proposal said existing certification schemes will be able to win EU approval if they meet certain criteria, including by addressing the risk that the CO2 could be released back into the atmosphere and having transparent rules on how long the CO2 will be stored.
Brussels said it will now develop laws containing detailed criteria for specific types of removals, for example direct air capture plants or farming methods that suck CO2 into natural ecosystems.