The European Union’s pursuit of climate neutrality by 2050, as outlined in the Paris Treaty, will increasingly rely on methodologies for reducing carbon in the atmosphere. To address this goal, the Commission adopted the “Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles” in December 2021. This communication presents a short- and medium-term action plan for developing various carbon sink solutions. One of these solutions, as defined in the communication, is Carbon Farming—a set of voluntary agricultural practices aimed at capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in soils or biomass.
Voluntary carbon removal and carbon farming projects encompass initiatives such as afforestation and reforestation, agroforestry, which combines tree or shrub management with crop and pasture growth, conservation tillage practices to protect and revitalize soils while preserving biodiversity, and the conservation and restoration of damaged peatlands and wetlands to enhance carbon sequestration potential.
Biochar, which is derived from wood or biomass through pyrolysis, presents another practical methodology for mitigating climate change. Biochar has a high carbon content (90%) and a compact structure, making it resistant to degradation by soil microorganisms and an effective carbon storage medium. It offers benefits for sustainable soil management, including reduced reliance on fertilizers and chemicals.
Another approach highlighted in the Commission’s communication to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 is the utilization of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. CCS involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground, in the ocean, or at designated sites. This technology is not new, and large-scale CCS projects are already operational worldwide. However, effectively assessing their efficiency and gaining public acceptance and support remain challenges, especially in the context where this industrial solution could cause major natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Project Greensand is an innovative initiative launched in March 2023 that has successfully accomplished cross-border carbon capture and storage (CCS). It involves the transportation of CO2 from Belgium and its injection into a depleted oil field located beneath the Danish North Sea. The primary objective of this project is to ensure the secure and enduring storage of approximately eight million tons of CO2 annually by the year 2030. This amount is equivalent to 40% of Denmark’s emission reduction target and more than 10% of the nation’s yearly emissions.
Despite the potential of “Carbon Removals” projects, they face credibility concerns due to difficulties in quantifying performance and certifying emission removals. To address this, the European Commission proposed a voluntary certification framework for “Carbon Removals” and CCS projects in November 2022. The certification aims to establish criteria for measuring and verifying removal quantities and qualities, along with monitoring and reporting processes to ensure authenticity. This framework will help identify reliable carbon removal solutions, combat greenwashing, and enhance public awareness and acceptance.
The certification framework development involves an expert group working in two phases: establishing quality criteria and creating standards for measuring, monitoring, reporting, and verifying carbon removals, followed by third-party accreditation approval. The goal is to provide assurance of the success of carbon removal and CCS projects, prevent misleading claims, and increase public recognition and support.
In April 2023, nearly a year after the Commission’s certification proposal, the European Parliament acknowledged the initiative during a plenary session. The Parliament urged the Commission to provide verified data on project emissions and removals before 2026 to establish the certification system and facilitate the creation of a voluntary market for CO2 removal project credits. This data will be crucial for the upcoming reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy in 2027.
MEPs recognize the significant opportunity the certification system presents for transforming Europe’s agricultural, agroforestry, and industrial sectors, leading to improved sustainability practices and contributing to the achievement of zero emissions by 2050. The latest report from the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament emphasizes the three complementary roles of carbon removals: reducing net CO2 or GHG emissions in the short term, offsetting challenging residual emissions to achieve net-zero, and attaining negative net CO2 or GHG emissions if deployment surpasses annual residual emissions. The report also highlights the importance of prioritizing reductions in direct emissions, while carbon farming coverage should align with the revised LULUCF (Land use, land-use change and forestry) and national GHG inventories, excluding livestock. Additionally, it calls for the establishment of a union registry of carbon credits and a publicly accessible list of accredited certification bodies within the registry.
Worth noting that the European legislation is becoming more and more strict regarding carbon emissions, in all industrial and agricultural fields, affecting the end consumers in the chain, through price increases to bear the high costs regarding investments in such proposed solutions. The emission reduction targets in the sectors included in the European Emissions Trading Scheme EU ETS for 2030 have changed in the last 7 years in the direction of increasing them from 30% to 40%, then to 55% (the “Fit for 55” proposal “), to be finally adopted by the European Parliament, the target of 62% reduction of CO2 emissions in 2030 compared to the level of 2005. Considering this European legislative instability, we should not be surprised if the EU changes in the next 2- 3 years the 2050 net zero emissions target to be achieved in 2040, accelerating the pace of implementation of carbon removals and carbon capture solutions and imposing drastic carbon taxes, including on citizens.
This article first appeared in the printed edition of Energynomics Magazine, issued in June 2023.
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