On the 30th of November 2022, the European Commission published its long-awaited proposal for a regulation to create an EU framework for the voluntary certification of carbon removals.

The objectives of the proposal

The proposal, which was eagerly awaited by operators in the sector, is part of the “voluntary market” for carbon, marking a very important landmark. In fact, it is the first reference framework at European level that aims to define minimum requirements, a methodology and standards for measuring and trading carbon removals. This proposal will thus indirectly regulate a market that is often subject to speculation and greenwashing.

The proposal is in line with the commitments made by the European Union to reduce emissions and to become ‘climate neutral’ by 2050 included in the Green Deal and with the objectives of the “Fit for 55” package, which envisages the reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels. The regulation has the clear objective of promoting activities to remove atmospheric CO2, also including the agriculture and forestry sectors, contributing to achieving the target of 310 Mt of carbon removals by 2030 in the LULUCF (Land use, land use change and forestry) sector.

“Nature is our greatest ally in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises. It shields us from climate extremes and absorbs carbon. Right now, Europe’s nature is struggling and our carbon sinks are shrinking. By setting a higher target for carbon removals through nature and ensuring more accurate monitoring, our new regulation on land use and forests helps to redress that situation and puts the European carbon sink on a path to growth again. It’s a key requirement to meet our net zero target and even opens the door to a higher climate target in the near future. […]” – Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal (11/11/2022)

Transparency and credibility for independent verification and certification schemes

The regulation aims to ensure transparency and credibility of the certification process and the carbon market by setting standards for the independent verification of removals and regulating the recognition of certification systems. The latter is undoubtedly an innovative element, as it will allow for the recognition of certification systems already in use in several European countries (e.g. Label Bas Carbone in France), if they comply with the four Q.U.A.L.ITY criteria:

  • QUantification (quantification): carbon sequestration activities must be measured accurately and must produce unequivocal benefits;
  • Additionality: absorption activities must go beyond what is required by law;
  • Long-term storage: certificates are linked to the duration of carbon storage, ensuring permanence;
  • Sustainability: absorption activities must safeguard or contribute to sustainability objectives, such as the protection of water resources and biodiversity, among others.

In particular, criterion 4 expresses the need for carbon sink activities to also take into account other sustainability commitments. Indeed, activities are required to have a neutral or – better – positive impact in the following areas: climate change mitigation and adaptation, protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems, sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, and pollution prevention and control. In addition, these actions should take into account the criteria of the Do Not Significant Harm regulation.

What happens next?

Based on the QU.A.L.ITY criteria, the Commission will develop tailor-made certification methodologies for different types of carbon removal activities. The way in which these methodologies will be developed is fundamental, as it will influence how private standards will be recognised within the initiative. Certification schemes accredited at the Member State level and verified by a third-party body will then be able to certify carbon removal activities. The certificates will be published in registers that meet the criteria of transparency and traceability.

What is Etifor doing in this regard?

Etifor has been active on this issue for a long time. For example, the LIFE ClimatePositive project, which started on the 1st of August 2022 and is the only Italian LIFE project in the Climate Change Mitigation topic, has precisely the objective of applying the Regulation to structure business models capable of increasing the area of forest under responsible management.

In addition, we support forest managers in verifying the ecosystem services produced by forests through the application of the FSC ecosystem services procedure and we facilitate private companies to economically support initiatives aimed at the conservation of biodiversity and the absorption of forest carbon.

Finally, on the 12th of January 2023 we will hold the webinar “2023: crediti di carbonio e foreste“, which aims to better understand the different features of the new regulation proposal.