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The bare necessities: Essential principles to design sensible carbon removal policies

Carbon removals are necessary to reach climate neutrality and net-negative emissions. However, they must play second fiddle to emissions reductions and be implemented sustainably. The increasing political, scientific and corporate interest in carbon removals has resulted in various approaches being implemented (or theorised) in various jurisdictions, or in voluntary schemes that aim to scale up investments and foster innovation in the sector.

This paper reviews a variety of  regulatory approaches to carbon dioxide removals (including emissions trading systems, tax incentives and public direct subsidies) and voluntary approaches, and, building upon failures, promising concepts and lessons learned from the reviewed frameworks, sketches a blueprint for sensible CDR policy design.

In the long term, meaningful and sustainable long term climate policy frameworks should aim to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible with residual emissions as low as can be realistically achieved (to limit the reliance on CDR as sustainable removals must be assumed to stay scarce and expensive), and enable deep and sustained net-negative emissions.

In the EU, the first opportunity to set a long term vision that encapsulates the complementary role of removals and the primacy of emission reductions is during the 2040 target setting process and then implementing that new target across the EU climate policy architecture. Policymakers should take heed of the bare necessities. This is an opportunity that must not be squandered.

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