Laying the groundwork for real climate neutrality

(Nanowerk News) Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), or negative emissions, is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere that could help limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Clearly defining CDRs will help policymakers distinguish between right and wrong carbon removal technologies and practices.
As part of the effort to avoid CDR policies that could undermine climate change mitigation efforts, Bellona Europa and Carbon Market Watch recently hosted a virtual workshop titled ‘On the Way to Climate Neutrality: Defining Real and Credible Carbon Removals’.
Organised in the scope of the EU-funded NEGEM project, the workshop highlighted four proposed principles for defining CDR and their practical applications.
As stated in a news item published by project partner Bellona Europa, the first and second principles state that CO2 should “be physically removed from the atmosphere” and stored “in a manner intended to be permanent.” The third principle concerns the inclusion of upstream and downstream greenhouse gases in the emission balance, while the fourth principle states that the quantity of permanently stored CO2 should be greater than that emitted.
The four principles were adapted from a paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science ("When are negative emissions negative emissions?").
“These principles are a really simple way to start filtering projects to assess whether they have the potential to remove carbon or not,” Bellona Europa Deputy Director Keith Whiriskey commented in his welcome speech. Terhi Lehtonen, Finland’s State Secretary for Environment, stressed the risks of getting CDR policy wrong, noting that it “could undermine climate efforts by channeling funds to fake removals, inevitably diverting resources from emission reductions, or by undermining public confidence in climate policy.”

Principles in practice

The workshop’s first panel focused on the first principle and discussed methods currently used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and their respective challenges. Discussions included technology that filters ambient air to capture CO2 and the role of a waste-to-energy plant in Oslo’s climate and waste management plans. Lorie Hamelin of project partner INSA Toulouse emphasised the importance of taking the future impacts of CDR into account so as to make the right investment decisions today.
“Establishing a good baseline is essential. We also need to make sure that we are not interfering with the overall market demand for land, and still supply the same goods and services with the same land as when we started,” she observed.
Focusing on the second principle, the second panel discussed the permanent storage of CO2 in geological formations and land sinks. According to the same news item, Zero Emissions Platform Chairman Graeme Sweeney “warned against limiting the conversation of permanent storage to only CCS [carbon capture and storage], stating that soils and forests will also play a key role.” Kelsey Perlman, a climate campaigner with the NGO Fern, argued that permanence is impossible when it comes to land sinks and criticised the idea of credits for land-based removals.
Third panel discussions focused on the third and fourth principles and included the European Commission’s plans to create a Carbon Removal Certification Mechanism, the importance of avoided emissions and the need to verify removals. Wijnand Stoefs of project partner Carbon Market Watch wrapped up the NEGEM (Quantifying and Deploying Responsible Negative Emissions in Climate Resilient Pathways) workshop by highlighting the importance of having “verifiable and well-understood” principles that can lead to the inclusion of CDR in European policies.
Source: European Commission
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