A sustainable carbons cycle or a vicious emissions cycle?

(EurActiv, 16 Dec 2021) The European Commission’s proposed carbon removal strategy, although it contains some good elements, is also problematic and confusing on other aspects, writes Wijnand Stoefs.

Wijnand Stoefs is policy officer at Carbon Market Watch, a not-for-profit association with expertise in carbon pricing policies.

On 15 December, the European Commission published its Sustainable Carbon Cycles Communication, which showcases its vision for carbon farming, industrial carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and carbon capture and storage (CCS), and permanently removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The communication is meant to provide a blueprint for how carbon removals can compensate for any residual emissions for the EU to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and net-negative emissions after 2050, as mandated under the EU Climate Law.

Focus on emissions

Let’s start with the good news. The communication contains some great elements. It highlights numerous times that the EU’s priority is, and should remain, reducing emissions. This is critical as a tonne of carbon removed from the atmosphere and stored permanently cannot be considered equivalent to a tonne of carbon emitted for a number of reasons.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that a tonne removed likely has 10% less impact on atmospheric CO2 concentrations than a tonne emitted due to interactions with land and ocean carbon stocks. The same IPCC report highlighted that greenhouse gas pollution could have long-lasting repercussions on life on Earth that removals would not be able to “clean up” or “compensate” for.

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EurActiv, 16 Dec 2021: A sustainable carbons cycle or a vicious emissions cycle?