European Carbon Certification: the unlikely alliance

21 March 2023 - Op-ed - By : Julia GRIMAULT

The future European carbon certification framework is under intense debate. The first meeting of the expert group in charge of supporting the Commission has raised criticisms on the composition and mandate of this group, and the discussions have taken an unexpected turn by achieving the feat of bringing NGOs and CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) industrialists to an agreement against natural carbon sinks, those of our forests or our agricultural soils. Where does this unlikely alliance come from?


First of all, the uncertainty surrounding the purpose of this certification. Will it serve mainly to channel public funds? Or is it a tool for voluntary carbon offsetting by companies, or even for regulatory offsetting in the future European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (Eu ETS)? With the announcement of report to come on the possible integration of CO2 removals into the Eu ETS, it is easy to understand the concern of NGOs, which are always very critical of offsetting, for good reasons.


This concern – at least this is our hypothesis – leads them to be all the more vigilant about the quality of the future certification, especially our ability to correctly account CO2 removals in ecosystems, and to insist on the risks of non-permanence of carbon stored in forests or soils… just like the CCS industry.


Non-permanence is a real challenge. Can the carbon removed by ecosystems be stored indefinitely?  This is where the problem lies for natural absorptions. Indeed, this carbon can be re-emitted into the atmosphere at any time, in the case of anthropogenic events (cutting down trees, hedges, tilling the soil, etc.) but above all natural events (storms, fires, dieback, etc.). The sequestered carbon remains sensitive to the impacts of climate change. These are the characteristics of living organisms. 


NGOs and industrialists are thus aligned: since the removals linked to living organisms cannot, intrinsically, be permanent, they should be excluded from the certification framework and, consequently, only technological absorptions should be considered.e a clear debate on the purpose of this certification framework. This will prevent technical debates from being disconnected from the more global issues of how to achieve our climate goals.


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