Carbon removals: extra measures to reach climate neutrality
To reach the EU’s climate goals, emission reduction efforts will need to be complemented by measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Climate change is already a reality but depending on the measures taken now, it is still possible to limit its consequences. Under the Paris Agreement on global climate action, the EU has committed to pursue limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To reach this goal, EU climate law sets a binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The main tool for reaching zero emissions is rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the EU has been making progress in this regard. However, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be necessary to complement emission cuts. This is because it is difficult to reach zero emissions in some sectors, such as agriculture, cement and steel production or aviation and maritime transport.
The EU is working on a certification scheme to make sure any carbon removals in the EU create clear benefits for the environment. The aim is also to prevent greenwashing, which is when companies claim to be more environmentally friendly than they really are.
What are carbon removals?
Carbon removals are activities that remove and durably store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There are several ways of doing this, including:
- Permanent storage (carbon is captured directly in the air and stored in a stable form)
- Carbon farming, meaning activities that increase carbon capture in soils and forests (for example forest restoration, peatland and wetland management)
- Carbon storage in products (for example carbon captured by trees is stored in wood-based constructions)
EU certification framework for carbon removals
To encourage and accelerate the deployment of effective, high-quality carbon removal activities in the EU, the European Commission proposed in November 2022 to establish an EU-wide certification scheme for carbon removals.
Certification would ensure carbon removal activities are measured in an accurate way, store the carbon for as long as possible and benefit - or at the very least do not hamper - other environmental goals, such as biodiversity, zero pollution and the circular economy.
Harmonised certification would help build trust and steer financing to the carbon removal activities from both public and private sources.
The European Parliament has repeatedly stressed that it views reducing emissions as the main path towards climate neutrality and that carbon removal is a way to complement these efforts .
Parliament adopted its position on the carbon removal certification scheme in November 2023. MEPs suggested setting up an EU-wide registry to ensure the scheme’s transparency, provide information to the public, and to avoid the risk of fraud and double counting of carbon removals. They also want to distinguish between the rules on carbon removals, carbon farming and carbon storage in products, due to their differences and environmental impact.
Parliament is now ready for negotiations with the Council on the final text of the legislation.