Researcher: Carbon removal technologies ‘need to be upscaled quickly’

Posted by aclimaadmin | marzo 4, 2022 | Noticias del Sector

As the European Commission looks at creating a certification scheme for carbon removals at the end of this year, it will need to choose which methods to prioritise with a view to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, according to Dr Oliver Geden.

Doctor Oliver Geden is a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security affairs and lead author for the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) Working Group III on climate change mitigation. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Kira Taylor about the EU’s plans to certify carbon removals and how this could work.

The European Commission published its communication on sustainable carbon cycles in December last year, which lays the foundation for carbon removals in Europe. What are your thoughts about it?

I think, overall, it’s positive that the Commission takes on this topic. I think it was good timing to say that, now we have the Fit for 55 package and the second part of the package in December, let’s start this conversation.

We keep forgetting that, after the 2030 legislation is agreed, we will start discussing the 2040 target in the EU  and then start drafting legislation for the 2030s. There, carbon dioxide removal will clearly play a bigger role.

What still amazes so many people is the focus on carbon farming, where many experts don’t see that much of a removal potential.

But I think what many climate experts overlook is the political agenda that the Commission has behind it. That’s connected to making the three pillars we have – the emissions trading scheme (ETS), the effort sharing regulation (ESR) and the land use regulation (LULUCF) – two pillars by creating an ETS for road transport and buildings and merging agriculture and land use together.

This will dissolve the ESR and the carbon farming initiatives will create new revenue streams for the agricultural sector. This is more about internal EU politics than about maximising removal potentials.

Is there anything missing from the communication?

I was surprised that the Commission also proposed an indicative target for non-LULUCF carbon dioxide removal. This was misread by many commentators as a new EU target, but for that, it would need to be endorsed by the Council and the Parliament. Yet it clearly shows in which direction the Commission wants to go in the long-term.

What I find surprising right now in the negotiations on Fit for 55 is that, in the ESR proposal and in the ETS proposal, technological carbon dioxide removals, like direct air capture with carbon capture and storage, already pops up.

In general, the Commission’s policy is to fund projects under the Innovation Fund first and have those started so that something is happening beyond forestry that can be seriously regulated and have targets in the 2030s. Between the sustainable carbon cycle strategy proposed last year and the certification of methods at the end of this year, there’s a proper pipeline.

Of course, some would say it’s going too fast or there are not enough safeguards. And others, basically the industry, saying it’s going too slow. I think that it’s more or less okay.

You mentioned the certification scheme that the European Commission is planning for carbon removals at the end of 2022 – what are the challenges of putting such a system in place? And what are the key elements you believe it should contain?

You cannot do all methods. Simply for pragmatic reasons, you have to make choices and prioritise. It will be interesting what the choices will be.

For forestry, you have established systems, but you could make them better. But if you look at the discussions around the Commission’s forestry strategy, that might be hard. There might be loopholes. Then there are things that are simply hard to understand in terms of terrestrial carbon flows, which can lead to governments or companies trying to game the system.

Then looking at methods like soil carbon sequestration, where you have dispersed areas where you practice this, it’s not easy to track the carbon and there is also a problem of permanence. So you would have to come up with rules for that. But first of all, how to measure it and then how to deal with possible leakage.

Even more complicated would be something like enhanced mineral weathering. You first deploy the minerals on fields. But in the long term, the carbon bound will go via runoff and rivers into the ocean. You cannot really say 30 years later, now let’s look where the carbon is and how much is there.

So you would need to develop modelling and all the actors would need to trust the modelling. You can get it easily wrong – and nobody’s to blame for that – but you could end up in a situation where you award too much money to the companies doing it, but you’re unable to change the rules later or you give not enough and you don’t incentivise action.

Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air capture with storage (DACSS) are quite uncomplicated to measure if the carbon is stored geologically. What’s complicated is if you go for the utilisation of that carbon (CCU) and unfortunately sometimes that debate is mixed with the one on removals.

What the verification system would have to deliver is tracking where the carbon stays in the long term. The IPCC’s carbon dioxide removal definition in its special report on 1.5°C says about storing it “durably”, but there is no agreed definition for “durably”.

The European Commission and then the Parliament and Council would have to come up with a threshold for durability and rules on how to deal with carbon that gets released earlier.


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