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European Parliament inches towards improving Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF)

The European Parliament has raised the bar on the proposed legislation for regulating carbon removals but the EU is still far away from a framework that would truly benefit the climate.

A European Parliament Environment Committee (ENVI) report has substantially improved upon the European Commission’s proposal for a Carbon Removal Certification Framework. 

“This was not difficult given the low bar set by a vague European Commission proposal that didn’t even cover the role certified removals would play,” said Wijnand Stoefs, policy lead on carbon removals at Carbon Market Watch 

That said, the ENVI report, which sets out the proposed position of the lead committee on environmental matters in the EU legislature, is anything but perfect. The onus is now on the European Parliament’s plenary and the member states to close the critical remaining loopholes that allow for greenwashing. This would ensure the CRCF stimulates climate action rather than slows it down. 

Fundamental problems

The use of carbon removals for offsetting in voluntary and compliance mechanisms must be ruled out completely. Dangerous climate change can only be prevented by rapid, deep and sustained emission reductions. Removals only have a supplementary and limited role to play in climate mitigation efforts.

Even if the Commission left it out of their proposal, guidance on the use of certified removals must be a central part of the CRCF. ENVI MEPs introduced important and welcome limitations on offsetting and greenwashing, but those limitations do not go far enough, and have even been compromised by loopholes. The result of which is sanctioning the unacceptable practice of double counting removals between private and public registries. 

“It means that the same removals generated by a project could be used by corporations and also by countries towards their climate targets,” explained Stoefs. “MEPs should know better and realise this undermines the functioning of the CRCF, its environmental delivery and trust in it. You cannot cheat what the atmosphere sees. This mistake needs to be rectified or it might kill the CRCF before it has even begun.” 

Greenwashing corporations could also use CRCF units for claims outside the EU. Identifying alternative financial mechanisms for carbon farming and support for climate contribution claims would have been a better and future-proof way forward, rather than this shortsighted focus on voluntary carbon markets. 

“At a time when daily news headlines report the latest extreme weather event or the breaking of another longstanding temperature record, for policymakers to choose not to ban double counting of carbon removals is shameful,” continued Stoefs.  

Not far enough

Sustainability criteria should be front and centre. The minimum requirement recommended by ENVI for all carbon farming projects to generate a positive biodiversity or nature restoration impact is a fantastic addition. This ensures that activities in the land sector do not just fatten developer’s wallets, but also benefit ecosystems and biodiversity. These activities might have dubious climate benefits, but at least they will benefit the wider environment and hopefully help the agriculture and forestry transition towards a greener and more sustainable future.

However, an opportunity has been missed to extend this idea to all projects or activities that use significant amounts of land or biomass, which would help rule out unsustainable and obscene practices, such as burning forests for the climate through forestry-based bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

Short-term carbon storage in soils, vegetation and ‘carbon storage products’ remains the focus of the proposal, and now a plethora of emission reduction (i.e. non-removal) practices has been added to the CRCF. This dilutes the attention given to permanent removals, while agricultural emissions are already addressed through various other policy frameworks (such as the Effort Sharing Regulation and the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation).

Creditable calls

Credit should also be given where credit is due. In calling for the establishment of separate targets for removals and emission reductions, the ENVI agreement makes substantial improvements upon the Commission text.  

“Support from the ENVI MEPs for keeping emissions and removals separate is essential and sends a strong signal to the Commission working on the EU’s 2040 climate targets,” said Fabiola De Simone, policy expert on carbon removals at Carbon Market Watch. “That’s the only way to maximise the benefits of sequestration and removal activities while keeping decarbonisation at the core of EU climate policy.”

The splitting up of the framework into three parts: permanent removals, temporary storage and emissions reductions is a meaningful advancement. Although temporary storage and emissions reductions do not belong in a reputable carbon removal framework, it creates differentiation based on the potential climate benefits of each activity type. It is commendable that ENVI has also proposed to change the name of the policy to the “certification framework for carbon removals, carbon farming and carbon storage in products”.

The language on liability for reversals has also been beefed up and made more tangible. MEPs insistence on actual storage is another welcome change, as is the addition of social safeguards such as for land speculation. The agreement on a ‘platform’ containing a strengthened scientific membership to replace the existing expert group, currently dominated by stakeholders with vested financial interests, is also a leap forward.

The tight and restricted definition of permanent storage is a good thing. If new storage media would be able to prove permanence they can be added later on, rather than opening up a Pandora’s box and potentially labelling anything with dubious long-term permanence (such as biochar, a form of charcoal obtained through the carbonisation of biomass) as permanent.

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