The EU wants to legitimize carbon removal schemes

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The European Union has taken an important step towards legitimizing efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Yesterday, the European Commission approved a proposal for new rules for certifying carbon removal, a still-controversial strategy for mitigating climate change.

The concern is that, without the proposed rules, ineffective carbon removal projects could derail climate goals and give polluters a sham to hide behind while presenting themselves as green. To ban such projects, the European Commission wants to set up a framework for certifying “high-quality” carbon removals.

“Increased transparency builds stakeholder and industry confidence and prevents greenwashing,” the Commission said in its announcement.

“The EU is betting heavily on unproven removals”

But their proposal has set alarm bells ringing among dozens of environmental groups, who say the EU’s embrace of carbon removal paves the way for even more greenwashing. Old carbon offset strategies that relied on forests, many of which failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, could be incorporated into the new carbon removal scheme. New technologies designed to capture and store CO2 from the air have yet to prove themselves on a large scale, and there are fears that the technology will deter efforts to prevent pollution in the first place.

“The EU is betting big on unproven removals… Every ton of future promised carbon removals represents a delay in emissions reductions today, driving us deeper into climate chaos,” Lucy Cadena, coordinator of Real Zero Europe, an environmental campaign opposing the EU’s carbon removal plans, said in a statement. More than 200 organizations together with Real Zero Europe issued a public statement this week condemning the European Commission’s carbon removal plans.

According to the Commission’s proposal, carbon removal projects would need to obtain a “certificate of compliance” from a third party. The proposal sets criteria to independently verify that a project is actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a safe place where it can no longer warm the planet. Criteria for certification include that the captured CO2 can be accurately measured, for example, and stored for the long term.

The framework has yet to be fully developed. As it is now, “it is very vague, it is very non-binding, we are missing a lot of very crucial wording,” Wijnand Stoefs, policy officer at the NGO Carbon Market Watch, told the newspaper. Financial times.

One of the main concerns with the proposed framework is whether it will verify projects that don’t permanently store carbon dioxide. CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and cause climate change. To counter this, projects must be able to keep captured CO2 out of the atmosphere for just as long. So far, people haven’t been very good at that.

For example, many companies have turned to carbon offsetting projects that promise to harness the ability of forests to absorb and store CO2 in trees and soil. But those forestry projects are vulnerable to wildfires and logging. And if a company says it’s going to plant more trees to make up for the pollution, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the young tree will survive for hundreds of years. Study after study has shown that these kinds of projects fail to deliver on their carbon sequestration promises.

In addition, the Commission’s proposal also includes efforts to store CO2 in everyday man-made materials. “Sustainable products and materials, such as wood-based construction products, can also retain carbon for decades or longer,” the European Commission said in its press release. That seems to set a fairly low bar for “long-term” CO2 storage.

To become law, the proposed framework still needs to be approved by both the European Parliament and the Council. While regulation lags behind, large companies are already trying to gain a foothold in the emerging carbon removal market. Oil giant Occidental already has plans to sell carbon removal credits from its upcoming projects in Texas. Big Tech also wants to participate. Alphabet, Meta, Stripe and Shopify launched an initiative in April to explore carbon removal projects for companies looking to purchase their services.

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