EU to establish certification process for carbon removal technologies

Author: Editorial
event 21.02.2024.
Foto: Shutterstock

The European Union has taken a significant stride towards endorsing technologies designed to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by agreeing to implement a certification process.

The European Council and European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on February 20th to establish the first-ever certification framework for carbon removal technologies. While these emerging climate technologies are yet to prove their efficacy at scale, the EU is integrating them into its strategy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The concept of net zero entails offsetting any remaining CO2 emissions through methods such as leveraging the natural carbon absorption capabilities of plants or deploying technologies to filter CO2 from the air or seawater.

Recognizing the inherent risks associated with the net-zero strategy, the EU’s newly outlined rules play a crucial role. They will determine the criteria for qualifying as carbon removal, aiming to weed out ineffective projects that fail to meaningfully combat climate change. Stringent regulations are essential to prevent companies from continuing to pollute while making misleading promises to offset emissions later. If these promises are unfulfilled or the underlying technologies falter, it could result in the accumulation of avoidable pollution that could have been prevented by prioritizing clean energy alternatives over carbon removal.

Christoph Beuttler, Chief Climate Policy Officer at Climeworks, one of the pioneering companies in large-scale CO2 filtration, lauded the EU’s commitment to ensuring the effectiveness of carbon removal efforts. Beuttler emphasized the importance of stringent assessment processes and encouraged other regions to follow the EU’s lead in this regard.

Currently, the industry largely regulates itself. For instance, Climeworks announced last year that companies like Microsoft, Stripe, and Shopify had become the first to pay for filtering their CO2 emissions and storing them underground, with verification by a third-party auditing company, DNV. Additionally, an initiative called Frontier, spearheaded by Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, Shopify, and McKinsey, was launched in 2022 to vet carbon removal suppliers for interested companies.

In an effort to avoid the pitfalls experienced with previous carbon credit systems, the EU’s new certification framework delineates parameters for four distinct types of carbon removal. These include permanent sequestration of CO2, temporary carbon storage, industrial carbon removal methods, and nature-based strategies. The framework also aligns with measures proposed by the European Commission in 2022, emphasizing the quantifiability, long-term viability, and additional CO2 reductions of projects, while ensuring minimal negative environmental impact.

Despite the EU’s efforts, some environmental groups remain skeptical, expressing concerns about the potential incentivization of temporary carbon storage and the risk of double counting emissions reductions. Wijnand Stoefs, Carbon Removal Policy Lead at Carbon Market Watch, criticized the agreement, stating that it violates the fundamental principle that removals should complement rather than substitute emission reductions.

The provisional agreement reached on Tuesday must undergo formal adoption by the European Council and European Parliament. If approved, the certification process would be voluntary for carbon removal companies, with only certified projects contributing to a country’s progress towards meeting the EU’s climate objectives.

Earlier this month, the European Commission unveiled a strategy document outlining plans to capture carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040. The strategy envisions the EU having the capacity to store 280 million metric tons of captured CO2 annually by 2040, equivalent to the emissions of over 700 gas-fired power plants per year.


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