Photo: © Elizaveta Galitckaia & Elnur /

Carbon removal proposal – a gift to emitting industries

A new Commission proposal presents carbon dioxide removal as an alternative to stop emitting CO2. This may open up large loopholes in EU climate policy.

A proposal for an EU Regulation1 “establishing a Union certification framework for carbon removals” may sound innocuous but could also have far-reaching consequences.

One form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is enhancing natural carbon sinks, such as restoring wetlands or leaving forests to grow. This is obviously better for the climate than letting the wetland dry up and emit its store of carbon or to clear-cut the forest. The problem comes with quantification of these advantages and monetising. “Carbon farming”, paid for through a carbon pricing system, is not necessarily the only or best way to save the climate and biodiversity.

The other form of removal is when carbon enters the technosphere and is stored either as CO2 in CCS storage, in principle forever, or for many years as wood in buildings. This is much problematic.

CDR is one of two ways to achieve EU carbon neutrality by 2050, as stipulated in the 2021 Climate Law. The first way is obviously renewables and efficiency.

“Second, we need to recycle carbon from waste streams, from sustainable sources of biomass or directly from the atmosphere, to use it in place of fossil carbon in the sectors of the economy that will inevitably remain carbon dependent, for instance through carbon capture and use (CCU) and sustainable synthetic fuels,” states the proposed Regulation.

Here controversies abound.

The stated need to “recycle carbon” echoes the Saudi 2020 presidency of G-20. Is there indeed a shortage of carbon on Earth?

“Directly from the atmosphere” means giant vacuum-cleaners that take CO2 directly from the air.

Is it a good idea to first emit CO2 from fossil power stations and cars and then vacuum the atmosphere for the molecules, compress the gas and send it down a hole and hope it stays there forever? The technology is unproven on a meaningful scale, but we know it will need a lot of electricity from, say, wind power. This power could be used to replace coal power directly, which would obviously be faster, cheaper and involve less risk.

As for “sustainable sources of biomass”, their existence is increasingly questioned. The need for synthetic fuels is not a foregone conclusion, as there are non-carbon alternatives: renewable electricity and hydrogen.
The proposed legislation states that increasing amounts of CO2 “will have to be captured and removed each year from the atmosphere by carbon farming and industrial removal activities or projects to compensate hard-to-abate emissions from sectors like agriculture, cement, steel, aviation or maritime transport, with the view to reach climate neutrality”.

There are alternative ways to deal with most, or all, of these emissions. Acid News has described many of them. Steel can be made with hydrogen as a reductant instead of coal and coke. Cement for concrete can be reduced or replaced. Agricultural practices can be changed.

Technically, the proposed regulation only aims to clarify how a carbon removal certification system is to be organised. But if it is adopted, the ideological notions it contains will also become an official EU position.
It takes a lot more than a paper to make some of these outlandish schemes really happen. But the “Get out of jail free” card for the fossil industry in the EU and beyond it is there from day one.
The really important thing is not the classification and criteria, but how the product – “certified carbon removal units” – will be used.
“The EU carbon removal certification framework will contribute to improving the GHG quantification of supported practices and GHG inventories of national land sector. Through voluntary markets development it can ensure longer-term protection of carbon stocks,” according to the text.

Most of the NGO community has been dead against offsetting and voluntary schemes for decades, and they have ample evidence for its uselessness, most recently in an investigation by the Guardian.
The consultation process with the NGOs has been tightly controlled, and did not leave room for other views  than those supported by the eurocrats and the lobbyists behind them.
Which lobbyists? This is, as usual, is not easy to prove. But one can guess that the forest industry, the agri business, the oil, gas, coal and cement lobbies will not be sorry if the draft is adopted.

Fredrik Lundberg


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