Navigating the European Science and Policy landscape for Carbon Dioxide Removal

By Editor

RESCUE works to understand the policy frameworks that inform CDR developments, through a policy mapping exercise

TheIPCC Working Group III Report confirmed that Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), also known as Negative Emission Technologies (NETs), is “unavoidable” to meet climate goals of achieving net zero CO2 or GHG emissions by counterbalancing hard-to-abate residual emissions from industries such as transport, energy, and agriculture. Emissions reductions measures alone would not be sufficient to meet climate goals -- CO2 will also need to be removed from the atmosphere, on a scale never previously attempted or achieved, of around 10 GtCO2 a year by 2050 to reach net-zero CO2 emissions.

CDR is any human activity removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it durably in geological, land, or ocean reservoirs, or products. The 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C highlighted that all pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot require CDR in the amount of 100–1,000 GtCO2 by 2100.

However, both “natural” and “technological” or “engineered” CDR methods are underrepresented in the global political agenda. According to the State of CDR Report, many new technological CDR methods are emerging with potential but are still underdeveloped and must be rapidly scaled up to meet net zero emissions goals.

To bridge the gap between science, practice and policy, ensure the scale-up of funding, and grow high-quality CDR demand and deployment at scale, a comprehensive and inclusive strategy aligned with IPCC assessments at both local and global levels is needed, taking into consideration the socio-economic, nature-related, and technical concerns that have emerged to scale up CDR methods. This encompasses issues such as the deterrence of emission reduction efforts, lack of public awareness and inclusiveness, equity issues of varying country-level emission reduction responsibilities and capacities, and the local communities’ dependence on areas that are seen as potential CDR grounds. Additionally, limitations including scalability, effectiveness, permanence, costs, the lack of market mechanisms, and environmental impacts pose significant concerns. Therefore, to ensure effective implementation, CDR demands a comprehensive and inclusive strategy at both local and global levels.

CDR in the EU

Within RESCUE, we aim to understand the policy frameworks that inform CDR developments in the EU and international climate processes. For this purpose, we conducted a policy mapping exercise benefiting from the resources presented by the Carbon Gap Tracker Dashboard - to capture the landscape of CDR on the EU agenda, which will be instrumental in fostering the science-policy dialogue for the RESCUE Project.

Delving into the current policy landscape (see policy mapping figure), which reflects the current and potential CDR inclusion in the political agenda - particularly within the EU - it is evident that significant steps have been taken towards CDR policy implementation. In recent years, several policies and frameworks in the EU have been established – driven by the Paris Agreement goal to limit warming to 1.5°C – which call for CDR requirements. For instance, the objective of the 2050 long-term strategy (LTS) is climate-neutrality of the EU by 2050, which is the core of the European Green Deal and the legally binding European Climate Law. These frameworks guide the EU's climate action, setting ambitious targets such as the goal to reduce net GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030, which is outlined in the 'Fit for 55' package, responding to the requirements of the EU Climate Law.

Despite the somewhat well defined goals in the strategy and deals mentioned above, the EU was still missing a definition of the path from 2030 to 2050. Therefore, the EU Climate Target for 2040 was established in 2023 as a way to shape the EU’s climate policy in the medium term. In 2024, the EU 2040 climate target and climate budget will be proposed, which will define how carbon removal will be incorporated into policy tools like the EU Emissions Trading System, Effort Sharing Regulation, and more.

Additionally, in 2023, an expert group on carbon removals kicked off their work on the proposed voluntary regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals (CRCF). It is the first of its kind in width of covered CDR methods, aiming to ensure high-quality carbon projects – meeting the “QU.A.L.ITY” criteria (Quantification, Additionality, Long-term storage, Sustainability) – and to harmonise carbon removal market conditions.

Driven by the EU funding mechanisms such as the EU's Innovation Fund, Cohesion Fund, LIFE Fund, CAP Strategic Plans, and the Horizon Europe program, the European Union has allocated substantial resources to support research and innovation in specific carbon removal projects. For example, in April 2022, the European Commission disclosed the allocation of €180 million from the EU Innovation Fund for a BECCS project, financed by revenues generated from the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS).

Next Steps: The RESCUE Project

RESCUE (Response of the Earth System to Overshoot, Climate neUtrality and negative Emissions) is a Horizon Europe project, which investigates Earth system responses to CDR technologies and designs new climate projection scenarios with the representation of CDR portfolios.

The journey toward carbon neutrality necessitates continuous engagement between the scientific community, the policy sphere, and societal needs. A key element of the project is to foster science-policy dialogue, and to integrate the latest scientific insights into scenarios with different CDR methods, ensuring their seamless integration into policy frameworks aimed at achieving climate neutrality.

RESCUE aims to ensure that the latest scientific knowledge and insights regarding CDR methods and their impact on the Earth's system are effectively communicated and integrated into policy frameworks. The conducted CDR policy mapping will help us understand the policy landscape that can potentially foster CDR developments in the EU and will be further developed and updated according to the latest insights. Furthermore, RESCUE will produce several policy briefs presenting policy-relevant results of the project which will be presented at COP29 in 2024 and COP30 in 2025.

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