Co2ol Down

Co-creating a common EU
vision of carbon removals

Representatives from civil society, academia and business have joined forces to co-design policy proposals that maximise the benefits of carbon removals and slash emissions in the European Union.


In January 2024, Carbon Market Watch and 110 other signatories representing civil society, academia and business demanded that the European Commission introduce specific and explicit targets for emissions reductions, land sequestration and carbon removals in the EU’s 2040 climate strategy to avoid slowing down decarbonisation efforts and to support a science-based use of removals.

Building upon that principle, CMW has gone a step further, bringing together many of these voices for a series of collaborative workshops to discuss and co-create a common vision of carbon removals in the EU. 

The CO2ol Down campaign unites participants who agree with the science-based and principled policy mix of prioritising emissions reductions, enhancing land-based activities based on nature restoration and developing the safe and sustainable amount of permanent removals needed to counterbalance our society’s residual emissions.

About the project

Background: the role of removals in the climate crisis

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is critical to curbing global warming and limiting the severity of the ongoing climate breakdown and its impact. If done well, carbon dioxide removals will be a necessary ally to supplement fast and deep emissions cuts by balancing out the hardest-to-abate emissions in the longer term and reaching a net negative emissions world. 

It is crucial to clarify that removals cannot replace decarbonisation – for two main important reasons. First, carbon dioxide removal is not equivalent to emission reductions. Emitting carbon and then removing it from the atmosphere at a later stage is overall more detrimental than not emitting it in the first place. Removals are an inherently weaker form of climate mitigation compared to emission reductions: the potential risks of leakage, technological constraints, energy, water and land requirements, as well as risks for biodiversity and local communities, make leaving carbon underground a safer option.

Secondly, feasibility, scalability, and impacts of permanent carbon removals remain uncertain. Today, the most novel removal methods which could secure millennia of storage permanence represent only 0.1% of current CDR deployment. The remaining 99.9% comes from land-based sequestration, which, while vital for biodiversity and ecosystems if enhanced through nature restoration activities, is vulnerable to human or natural disturbances and can release carbon back into the atmosphere more easily. Without serious plans to slash emissions, it will be impossible to keep the Earth at safe temperature levels.  

The challenge: mitigation deterrence and a polarised debate on CDR

On the one hand, overconfidence in the potential of carbon removals to counteract the impact of emissions – without clarifying their supplementary role – risks delaying emissions cuts and increasing the economic and social costs of returning to safer global temperatures. Future deployment might not materialise at the promised levels, and Earth’s system tipping points could be triggered in the meantime. Over-reliance on removals could also increase the costs of achieving net negative emissions.

On the other hand, investment in, and policy for, permanent removals are needed sooner rather than later to ensure there is time for safely and sustainably scaling up removals to balance even the very last residual emissions deemed essential by our society. This puts developers and investors in CDR at odds with those who want to err on the side of caution.

The objective: making the EU climate architecture fit for CDR

The European Union is starting the long process of establishing the bloc’s post-2030 climate policy framework. According to its core climate legislation, the European Climate Law, greenhouse gas emissions must be balanced with carbon dioxide removals by 2050. The EU Climate Law explicitly mandates the EU institutions and the Member States to “prioritise swift and predictable emissions reductions and, at the same time, enhance removals by natural sinks”. 

However, not only does the Climate Law not mention the role of the novel, most permanent removal technologies, neither does it determine how much or which type of removals should be used to reach the net-zero target by 2050 or how much residual emissions will be allowed at that point. In addition, 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 dedicated to the potential of and trade-offs for carbon removal or sequestration. The current policy architecture could allow the basic principle of “emissions first” to be circumvented, potentially undermining the EU’s climate efforts.

Now, there is an opportunity to revise the European Climate Law to ensure that carbon removals are used to supplement emissions reduction and clarify the different roles of permanent removals and land sequestration. Carbon Market Watch is therefore convening a forum to co-create a blueprint for a dedicated instrument for permanent removals.

The process: co-creating legislative proposals transparently

In the course of three full-day workshops in early 2024, Carbon Market Watch will bring together progressive businesses, think tanks, academics and NGOs to discuss how to best revise the EU Climate Law and devise an appropriate policy instrument for permanent carbon removals in the EU. 

Organisations can join this co-creation process if they agree with the basic tenet that removals, carbon sequestration in the land sector and emissions need to be handled separately to minimise mitigation deterrence and to reach climate neutrality in a safe and sustainable manner. Participants will be listed on the project webpage, and can leave the process whenever they wish to do so.

We want to document the co-creation in as much detail as possible so as to demonstrate its credibility to policymakers and the public. We want to ensure that the process is a safe space in which exploratory thinking is possible. All three workshops will be held under Chatham House rules, and key takeaways from the sessions will be available on this campaign page without being attributed to any participant (unless explicitly requested to do so).

The results

This broad co-creation community will strive to develop a feasible and scientifically sound policy that will inform European institutions in their deliberations on the setting and implementation of a 2040 target. The co-designed prototype will also hold the potential to serve as a good governance model for international replication in the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the UNFCCC framework.

The actual policy proposals will be drafted between workshops by a selected editing group on the basis of the workshop discussion and input from participants. The results will be shared with all participating stakeholders, and feedback on each proposal will be accepted by a fixed deadline. Once finalised, the policy proposals will be shared again with all participants for approval. At the end of the process, proposals will be published on Carbon Market Watch’s website and sent to the relevant EU policymakers. Those stakeholders who agree to be mentioned will be credited as co-creators. All co-creators will be free to use, share and otherwise utilise the results.

Latest updates

UN Secretary General is right: Carbon removals are no “silver bullet”
Work in progress: Collaborating for the safe governance of carbon removals in the EU
Workshop 3: The co-creation continues
Workshop 2: Discussing the key elements for EU permanent removals instruments
Workshop 1: Setting a new course for carbon removals in the EU
EU’s underwhelming 2040 climate target shifts responsibility to future generations
Using collaborative policymaking to build a common (and sustainable) EU vision of carbon removals
Over 100 organisations and scientists demand separation of EU’s 2040 climate targets
A logo and a name
Join CMW in demanding a firewall between emissions reductions, land sequestration and carbon removals

Workshops and events

Thursday, 29 February 2024

First workshop (online)

Thursday, 25 April 2024

Third workshop (in-person, in Brussels)