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Counting Carbon: The European Commission’s vision on carbon removals

As 2021 draws to a close, the European Commission (EC) has been busy. On 15 December 2021, it adopted several new documents in relation to environmental protection in the widest sense.

These include a Proposal for a Directive on the protection of the environmental through criminal law (replacing the current Directive 2008/99/EC) as part of the European Green Deal[1], a Communication from the EC on sustainable carbon cycles (the Communication)[2] and a Proposal for a Regulation on methane emissions reduction in the energy sector[3].

The Communication reflects the EU’s ambitious vision on achieving climate neutrality by 2050 through (among other strategies) carbon removals and identifies the implementation and accounting challenges facing the large-scale uptake of the various (emerging) carbon removal strategies- it may falls short on concrete language on how the carbon removal certification scheme[4] will function in practice, including the standardisation of Measurement, reporting verification  methodologies, but is important as a first step towards an actual EU regulatory framework for the accounting and certification of carbon removals- which in turn will have an important knock-on effect on the voluntary carbon markets’ evolving standards especially in relation to governance and credit-level integrity of credits in these voluntary markets.

Adding to our other publications on the European Green Deal and the EU’s Fit for 55 Package[5], this contribution is a deep dive into the freshly published Commission Communication on sustainable  carbon cycles and the creation of the long-awaited carbon removal certification system.

Jozefien Verbist, Junior Associate in A&O’s Brussels Climate and Environment team, authored this article together with Gauthier van Thuyne, Udo Herbert Olgemoeller and Jochem Spaans.

[1]Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of the environment through criminal law and replacing Directive 2008/99/EC, available here. The current Directive 2008/99/EC is available here.

[2]Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Sustainable Carbon Cycles, 15 December 2021, available here.

[3] Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on methane emissions reduction in the energy sector and amending Regulation (EU) 2019/942, available here.

[4]Annexes to the Communication to the Commission, Approval of the content of a draft for a Communication from on the Commission on the Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy 2022 (Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy), available here; Commission Regulation (EU) 651/2014 of 17 June 2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty (General Block Exemption Regulation), available here.

[5] See for example a webinar on the European Green Deal: Changes to look out for and impact of COVID-19 on timeline, 24 September 2020, available here.