Leading academics and climate experts urge European legislators to adopt separate targets for carbon removals, and ensure GHG reductions and carbon removals each progress in a manner commensurate with the climate crisis

Publish date: April 19, 2021

This is a watershed moment for the EU Climate Law. The current efforts to mitigate climate change are expected to fall short of the necessary reductions for 2030 due to the premature insertion of a ‘net’ target for 2030. Amongst the academics signing the letter, founding thinkers of the ‘net-zero’ concept who have expressed their wariness of a ‘net’ target that mixed emission reductions and removals. 

To EU Legislators,

The European Climate Law, currently being negotiated, could make Europe the first climate neutral continent and will bear significant influence for how stakeholders around the world will seek to meet their climate goals.

It is therefore of paramount importance that the proposed architecture embraces transparency and clarity on the 2030 climate target by developing the necessary governance framework for negative emissions separate to the framework for emission reductions.
Switching from an emission reduction target to a combined ‘net’ target, before developing a sound methodology to properly verify carbon removals, could result in bad accounting and climate plans that fail to reflect reality.

It is clear that carbon removals play a significant role in climate plans1 and efforts must be made now so that future deployment can be trustworthy and scalable. Carbon removals must be credible before they can be relied upon to balance out residual emissions.
There are many inherent complications to the deployment of permanent, durable and verifiable carbon removal processes. The permanence of storage, risk of reversals, and unintended side-effects are key issues to bear in mind, along with the lack of business models, social acceptance or considerations of equity. Therefore, expectations must be managed and efforts must be made to prevent an overreliance on negative emissions.

This can be achieved with a separate aspirational target for removals that would allow these to be developed and monitored within their own framework, ensuring that ambitious emission reductions are upheld while providing much-needed space for innovation and clarity for investors.

The EU must think carefully about the example it would set in the international arena if it were to adopt a net target for 2030. By combining reductions and removals too early, Europe risks encouraging carbon-intensive companies and high-emitting forest-rich countries to further delay action by explicitly encouraging them to use uncertified carbon removals to compensate the majority of their emissions.

Last year, the European Parliament supported a 60% target for emissions reduction by 2030, without removals, whereas the Council agreed on a 55% net target. On the basis of the above, we urge you as European Legislators to adopt separate targets to ensure short term GHG reductions, and additionally support the development and deployment of robust and sustainable carbon removals.

With urgency and gratitude,
The Signatories

Myles Allen, University of Oxford
Wolfgang Lucht, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Stuart Haszeldine, University of Edinburgh
Nils Markusson, University of Lancaster
Damien Cardinal, Sorbonne Universite, Paris
Markus Wissen, Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht Berlin (HWR Berlin) Herbert Formayer, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna Claudio Lovisolo, University of Torino
Sabrina Speich, LMD-IPSL, Ecole normale supérieure, Paris
Roberta Aluffi, University of Torino
Niall MacDowell, Imperial College London
Antonio Dominguez-Ramos, University of Cantabria
Monica Mezzalama, University of Torino, Italy
Angelo Tartaglia, POLITO, Politecnico di Torino and INAF
Wim Carton, Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies
Carlos Pozo Fernández, University of Girona
Simon Shackley, University of Edinburgh
Michel Noussan, FEEM
Ángel Galán Martín, ETH Zürich
Selene Cobo Gutiérrez, ETH Zürich
Alberto Pisconti, POLITO, Polytechnic of Turin
Constanze Werner, Potsdam Insitute for Climate Impact Research
Raul Calvo Serrano, ETH Zürich
Daniel Vázquez Vázquez, ETH Zürich
Martin Hoffmann, Johannes Kepler University Linz
Rob Bellamy, University of Manchester
Duncan McLaren, University of Lancaster
Alessandra Pollo, UNITO, University of Turin
Francesco M Benedetti, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Guy Finkill, Lund University / Fossil Free Sweden
Ingomar Glatz, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck
Valentina Negri, ETH Zürich
Margarita Charalambous, ETH Zürich
Panagiotis Zarkos, UC Berkeley
Anne Niederdränk, Technical University of Munich
Iasonas Ioannou, ETH Zürich
Sebastiano D’Angelo, ETH Zürich
Davide Bernardo Preso, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Elia Zancan, University of Birmingham
Davide Lucien Patono, UNITO, University of Turin


Mark Preston Aragonès, Policy Advisor, said: 

“Carbon removals will play an important role in accelerating climate action, but they cannot be used as an excuse to delay emission reductions, which must form the vast majority of our efforts. Reliable carbon removals are difficult and expensive, and we need to find a way to scale them up.” 

Suzana Carp, Political Strategy Director, said: 

“A 55% GHG reduction target for 2030 is the bare minimum for the EU to be still regarded as a climate leader internationally, while an additional removals target, kept separate from reductions, can form the “at least” part of the EU’s commitment. Giving removals a separate target would enable us to use removals to walk the extra mile on climate ambition rather than to cut corners.”