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Using collaborative policymaking to build a common (and sustainable) EU vision of carbon removals

Carbon Market Watch has launched a new project aimed at collectively designing the way the EU should regulate removals. This follows an open letter highlighting the need for separate targets for emissions reduction, land sequestration and permanent removals in the EU’s climate architecture, which was endorsed by over 110 organisations and scientists.

Positions in the field of carbon removals vary widely, ranging from overconfidence in the future potential of removals to tackle climate change (which risks creating overreliance and slowing down emissions reduction efforts) to over-caution about their use and impacts (which, in turn, risks blocking investments and regulation). 

As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between. Removals must not replace decarbonisation efforts, but investment in, and policies for, permanent removals are necessary.

This ensures there is time to safely and sustainably upscale them so that the very last remaining residual emissions deemed essential by our society are neutralised and to reach net-negative emissions. In parallel, carbon sequestration should be incentivised through nature restoration activities and sustainable agriculture and forestry practices. 

The EU’s current climate architecture has to be updated if it is to govern carbon removals in a sustainable way, respecting the bloc’s climate ambition and international commitments. Together with the most active stakeholders in the field, Carbon Market Watch is hatching a plan.

A policy framework fit for removals

Today, the EU Climate Law only mandates EU institutions and member states to “prioritise swift and predictable emissions reductions and, at the same time, enhance removals by natural sinks” when implementing the 2030 emissions reduction target. 

However, this obligation is missing for the 2050 net-zero target. 

In addition, it does not mention the role of permanent removals, nor does it determine how much or which type of removals should be used to reach the 2050 target, or how many residual emissions to expect at that point. This legislative void allows the principle of “emissions reductions first” to be circumvented.

Finally, with the exception of the LULUCF Regulation, which sets targets for carbon sequestration in the land sector until 2030, there is currently no policy in place that is dedicated to the potential and trade-offs of carbon removal or sequestration.

The risk therefore remains that with the current climate policy architecture carbon removals are used in a way that evades our climate goals. They can be used to downplay or delay necessary emission cuts, or be included in emissions reduction policies in an overly optimistic or environmentally dubious manner.

Co-creating new proposals on carbon removals

Through CO2ol down: co-creating a common EU vision of carbon removals, Carbon Market Watch aims to bring together a broad set of organisations and experts for three full-day workshops, to build upon the experiences, knowledge, priorities and concerns of its participants and discuss how to best incentivise carbon removals as a supplement to urgent emissions reduction in the EU’s current climate architecture.

The objective is to co-create politically feasible proposals to revise the EU Climate Law in line with the open letter and to build an effective policy instrument for  permanent removals.  Our collective and expert policy solutions will be delivered to the European institutions.

It is the opportune moment: EU policymakers will soon start the process of setting an EU 2040 climate target which will shape the bloc’s future climate policies and legislation. Demanding more clarity from policymakers on the use of carbon removals in the EU is essential.

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