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EU institutions draw battle lines on certifying carbon removals

Today’s vote at the European Parliament paves the way to interinstitutional negotiations on the Carbon Removals Certification Framework. The EU institutions urgently need to hammer out the many imperfections of the CRCF to ensure that carbon removals become an effective climate action tool.

The stage is set for trilogues on the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) to commence. At a plenary vote today the European Parliament gave its consent for Rapporteur Lídia Pereira to commence discussions with the European Council which formalised their starting position on Friday 17 November.

Reacting to the Parliament vote, Carbon Market Watch policy lead on carbon removals Wijnand Stoefs said, “Is the European Parliament’s position better than the European Commission’s original proposal? Yes. Is it good enough? Absolutely not. Policymakers have a lot of work ahead of them at trilogues to turn the CRCF into an effective climate action tool, rather than a smokescreen that hides greenwashing.”

The Parliament position

The plenary of the European Parliament has chosen to follow its Environment Committee’s position. Our thoughts on the main shortcomings and improvements of that position can be found here. Amendments proposed by The Left parliamentary grouping would have addressed many of those shortcomings, such as improving accounting for land-based sinks and biomass, ruling out offsetting and double counting, and ensuring that activities using biomass or causing land-use change have positive impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. Unfortunately, all of these amendments were rejected.

On the upside, the plenary vote also survived an attempt to add a hodgepodge list of so-called carbon farming activities to the CRCF. Many of the items on the list were not carbon farming activities, and seemed to cover just about everything in the farming sector in the EU – with little to no regard for potential climate benefits.

Stoefs said, “The proposed list of agricultural practices was an obvious and counterproductive attempt to get a host of agricultural business-as-usual activities certified, without them having any benefit to tackling the climate crisis. Turning the CRCF into another subsidy for climate-damaging agricultural activities was thankfully stopped.”

The Council position

The general approach of the Council barely shifts the dial, and, worryingly, if anything turns it back. The key problems that we identified in the European Commission proposal remain unchanged, while taking many steps backwards. For that reason, CMW supported the Climate Action Network Europe call to oppose the text.

That call references the most problematic points of the Council text. Most importantly, the Council’s position doesn’t cover the role or use of certified removals, which paves the way for offsetting and greenwashing, whilst allowing double counting. Key concepts relating to the duration of carbon storage are not or imprecisely defined. Moreover, the most important sustainability objective is watered down: text on the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems is broadened so far as to make it meaningless.

“The Council position barely shifts the dial. It undermines efforts to cut emissions by allowing offsetting and double counting, whilst watering down sustainability criteria,” continued Stoefs. “The member states should have pressed pause and restarted their deliberations. And now they’ll need to take the European Parliament position as a meaningful starting point for further improvements, rather than trying to water it down.”

The list of welcome changes is relatively short: monitoring and liability provisions are made more explicit, and the environmental impacts of increased biomass use shall be taken into account when the regulation is reviewed. 

A lot of work ahead for the trilogues 

While there will be pressure from a series of stakeholders (namely, the European Commission and the French government) to finalise the process before the European elections, the negotiations must not be rushed. This is a technical file with a potential to support or damage climate action in the EU – hurrying through can only lead to a damaging outcome. 

The trilogues need to address several key issues, with the top concern being to ensure no offsetting or greenwashing through the CRCF. The certified activities will have maximal climate benefit if they are used for compliance with dedicated targets.

Stoefs said, “Negotiators must consider the use and role of removals at the centre of their discussions. Otherwise there is a significant risk that carbon removals, temporary storage and/or emission reductions will be misused to delay emission reductions and greenwash dirty industries – both within and outside the EU.” 

This means that no CRCF units should be sold on voluntary carbon markets for compensation claims or used to offset emissions in compliance instruments (such as CORSIA or the EU ETS). At the very least, any use of units beyond EU climate targets  require corresponding adjustments to rule out double counting. 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. 

Additional hot irons include turning and strengthening sustainability objectives into sustainability requirements, focusing on real climate solutions with win-win outcomes for biodiversity and ecosystems rather than incentivising further pillaging of the EU’s forests for materials and biomass, and differentiating between removals, temporary storage and emission reductions.

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