Carbon is the atom of life, of our societies and economies. It is part of our DNA, the food we eat, the products we use every day, the fuels that power our homes, vehicles and factories, the materials we use to build our cities. Carbon continuously flows between the atmosphere, the ocean, the vegetation and the Earth’s crust, in a natural but fragile balance that our activities have jeopardised: emissions from fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes and land use change are cumulating in the oceans and are dramatically increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, fuelling the climate and biodiversity crises.
Carbon removals from forests, agricultural practices or technological solutions will play a growing role in achieving climate neutrality by 2050, and will become the main focus of action thereafter, when negative emissions will be needed to actively reduce concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and stabilise the world’s temperature increase.
Sustainable carbon cycles
In December 2021, the Commission adopted the Communication “Sustainable Carbon Cycles”, which sets out an action plan on how to develop sustainable solutions to increase carbon removals.
The Communication highlights several key ‘challenges’ and proposes short- to medium-term actions to tackle them.
- Carbon farming: by 2028 every land manager should have access to verified emission and removal data, and carbon farming should support the achievement of the proposed 2030 net removal target of 310 Mt CO2eq in the land sector, as presented in July's package on delivering the European Green Deal.
Key actions to tackle this challenge include: the creation of an expert group on best practices and monitoring, verification and reporting methodologies mainstreaming funds for carbon farming in relevant EU policies and programmes such as the Common Agricultural Policy, LIFE programme, Regional Development Fund), Horizon Europe and its mission ‘’A Soil Deal for Europe’’, a digital carbon navigator template a study on applying the polluter-pays principle to the agriculture sector, the creation of a carbon farming group within the Climate Pact, and blue carbon farming practices under the Horizon Europe Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters”.
- Industrial sustainable carbon: by 2028, any ton of CO2 captured, transported, used and stored by industries should be reported and accounted from its origin; by 2030, at least 20% of the carbon used in products should come from sustainable non-fossil sources; and by 2030 5Mt of CO2 should be annually removed from the atmosphere and permanently stored through technological solutions.
Key actions to tackle this challenge are creating a standard for carbon removal in wood construction products, the publication of an integrated bio-economy land-use assessment, financial support for industrial carbon removals through the Innovation Fund and Horizon Europe calls, a study on the CO2 transport network, updated guidance documents for the CCS Directive, and an annual CCUS forum.
A regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals
In the next few years, we need to scale up carbon removals, be it in the land sector or in industry. Improving the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon removals is the first fundamental step to enable robust markets and regulatory uses of carbon certificates. Carbon farming and industrial projects that invest in carbon removals today should have a prospect of a future robust accounting and certification framework that ensures comparability and recognition of the action started already on the ground.
To this end, the Commission will propose a regulatory EU framework for the certification of carbon removals by the end of 2022. The certification framework should ensure the transparent identification of carbon farming and industrial solutions that unambiguously remove carbon from the atmosphere.
On 31 January 2022 the Commission hosted a virtual conference on sustainable carbon cycles and the certification of carbon removals, bringing together experts from different backgrounds to share their experiences and gather valuable lessons for the upcoming regulatory initiative on the certification of carbon removals.