The European Union’s ambitious plan to approve CO2 sequestration

And one more! At the end of November 2022, the European Commission publicly presented a proposal for voluntary certification of CO2 sequestration in certain agricultural practices or certain materials such as wood, and only this greenhouse gas. “We hope to reach a European agreement on a common framework for certification by 2024”Fabien Ramos, responsible for carbon removal policy at the European Commission, says. Certification methods will be discussed during 2023 thanks to expert groups made up of scientists, Commission members and industries.

A measure that comes on top of restrictions on French farmers who are already subject to the low carbon label. It is difficult to navigate, especially since the certification framework proposed by the European Commission remains very light in its ambitions. Associations report “disappointed” and condemns the project “uncertain” can lead to greenwashing of certain companies.

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Sequestration of value, not diminution

To achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, the European Union wants to emphasize the continuous voluntary sequestration of CO2. To do this, it relies on three main pillars: developing carbon storage in agricultural land, promoting sequestration-enhancing practices such as agroforestry, and promoting a new industrial value chain for capture, particularly in wood, through building materials. The problem: this framework only envisages sequestration, not reduction of CO2 emissions. “Environmental nonsense” For Farm Europe.

“The impossibility of valuing agricultural emission reductions in addition to carbon storage is, in our view, a real obstacle: if only sequestered carbon can be valued in the European system, it will be harder for farmers to cover the costs of their projects. Marie-Pierre Jouglain laments.

Indeed, farmers find it difficult to recoup the cost of replacing agricultural machinery for storage. A flaw acknowledged by the European Commission itself, which considers this “The cost/benefit ratio will be balanced for the forestry and industrial sectors, but more complex for the agricultural sector.” Especially since only CO2 is evaluated and not methane and nitrous oxide (N2O), two gases very common in agriculture.

The carbon sequestration and financing methodologies currently being discussed are critical to convincing farmers to invest in these projects.

Associations, as well as the European Committee of the Regions, believe that it would be better to reward a change in practice rather than the amount of carbon stored.

According to research by the Low Carbon Label, some projects can currently cost French farmers up to €100 per ton of gas reduced or sequestered. The commission notes that carbon projects benefit farmers in terms of ecosystem services over time.

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Managing carbon sequestration over the long term

It is this tool for measuring sequestration over time that raises the question of long-term retention. Because the Commission wants to include sustainability in its certification methods. “It’s hard to guarantee in the long term, the idea is to create a temporary certificate that will be checked regularly”however, the European Commission explained, without elaborating on the frequency of assessments or any sanctions in case of non-compliance with this certification.

“If carbon is released into the atmosphere in a few years, who will be responsible?” This raises ethical questions.laments Fabiola De Simone, an expert on climate policy and carbon sequestration for the association Carbon Market Watch.

From the side of the European Committee of Regions, which considers the same story “attractive” the shelf life of this carbon for buyers.

Purpose: to harmonize certificates

Although this proposal reveals a number of inconsistencies, all stakeholders welcome the desire for harmonization at the European level. The Commission also considers it “Public and private schemes such as voluntary carbon markets validate carbon sequestration practices in agriculture, but their approaches to quantifying climate benefits vary widely.”

For Claudine Fouchereau, director of the agricultural program at the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE), this unique voluntary certification system will make it easier for farmers to find their way. “One of the main interests of this project is to solve it. »

What about the low carbon label in France?

There is another unknown in this proposal: Yes Certifications available in France such as the low carbon label? Launched by the Ministry of Ecology and Inclusive Transition in 2019, this methodology is the first voluntary climate certification framework in the national territory. This makes it possible to reward sequestration and carbon emission reduction projects in France. The question arises about the future of the European Union if it establishes a new certification program. Problem: The European program is less ambitious than the one in France.

“If the scope of the European framework does not change, there is no interest for France. The transition must be well regulated so that French farmers do not lose out by switching to European certification,” explains Claudine Fouchereau.

The European Commission emphasizes that this framework is voluntary and binds only those states that wish to join it. Farmers can still be labeled under the Low Carbon Label, especially if they are already involved in the process.

Finally, the last unknown is the sale of these certified loans. Again, the extent to which companies can receive these credits to achieve carbon neutrality is not specified. Fabien Ramos notes:

“We are agnostic about it. This framework could be supported by various public or private actors, but funding is not yet discussed. »