Last week the Expert Group on Carbon Removals held its third meeting as a part of the continuing process of developing the Carbon Removal Certification Framework and necessary methodologies. Once developed, these methodologies will outline specific and technical criteria for each removal activity type for certification under this framework. Invited experts presented methodologies for a variety of carbon removal activities considered in the CRCF, namely BECCS, DACCS, biochar, carbon mineralisation in concrete, biogenic carbon storage in buildings, and enhanced rock weathering.
In contrast to the previous meeting, independent expertise on the different methods was central to the agenda and plenty of time was allocated to in-depth discussions on critical details, with a presenter and up to three additional experts for each section of the meeting. Bellona highly values this intensified reliance on scientific expertise and experience in working towards the Commission’s goal of “highly accurate, highly standardised, low cost, and regionally specific” methodologies.
The diverse range of projects and methodologies make it clear that a tailored approach to the certification is needed at some level. However, it is also evident that a modular approach could provide some simplicity and new ideas for cross-technology best practice. Rigorous field validation of models from direct measurements proposed for the emerging approach of enhanced weathering could be a template for other methodologies where storage permanence is currently contested and uncertain. For more novel methods of CDR which currently lack the scientific basis and legal frameworks to qualify as permanent carbon removal (as is the case for geological storage of CO2), further research and pilot deployment should be undertaken before such activities can generate carbon removal units.
A recurring discussion in the meeting was the establishment of project boundaries under which the lifecycle emissions of a particular activity or project are determined. The selection of this boundary can have a significant impact on the overall greenhouse gas emission balance and should therefore be as broad as possible to include all emissions resulting from the process of removing and permanently storing CO2. A notable example is the mineralisation of CO2 in concrete, where the emissions associated with the original production of that concrete are excluded from the project boundary and are therefore likely to underestimate the emissions associated with the removal process. It should be noted that while some projects may have a climate benefit by displacing fossil fuels or reducing emissions, only the net permanent removal of CO2 should be certified as a removal. This by no means implies the other projects have no value but that they should be incentivised for the actual climate benefit they generate, rather than artificially labelling them as removals.
A common theme arising from the meeting discussions was a lack of clarity in the purpose of quantifying removals in these methodologies and how any resulting units will be used. Many CDR technology business models plan a heavy reliance on a carbon credit market with the sale of carbon removal units essential to product viability, but it is questionable if this is a mechanism to provide sustained credible incentive for meaningful climate action.
Clarification on the use of this certification and the different categories of activities covered (carbon removals, carbon farming, carbon storage in products) should be the priority in the upcoming CRCF negotiations. The criteria which are included in the methodologies, such as metrics, acceptable uncertainty, and baselines, are dependent on the eventual use of the units issued by these methodologies.
While Carbon Dioxide Removal is an unavoidable component of net-zero, the IPCC is clear in saying that the short-term role of CDR is to supplement emission reductions, to only counterbalance residual emissions and to eventually be net-negative at a global level. The units issued from this certification framework must keep these considerations in mind.
More information on the Expert Group on Carbon Removals is available here: https://climate.ec.europa.eu/eu-action/sustainable-carbon-cycles/expert-group-carbon-removals_en