New EU legislation seeks to monitor, report and verify carbon removals, but critics say it is too ‘vague’ and open to ‘misuse’

Carbon removals will play a key role in the path to net zero, with legislation ensuring their integrity. Whilst EU plans to address this have taken criticism, there is still plenty of time for voices across the industry, NGOs, and the general public to be heard.
December 14, 2022

The push for growth in carbon removal

According to research by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon removal deployment is essential for meeting 2050’s emission reduction goals for both the United States and the rest of the world. Even with significant investment in emission reductions, the United States (the subject of the NAS research) may need to remove nearly 2 gigatons of CO2 annually by the middle of the century to achieve net-zero emissions. This amount represents roughly 30% of the country's 2019 greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, up to 10 GtCO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere annually, and by 2100, that removal capability will have to expand to up to 20 GtCO2.[i] The need for carbon removals to support global net zero goals means that increasing capacity to undertake such removal and legislative decisions supporting its expansion are vital.

The IPCC’s most optimistic CO2 reduction scenario and the component of carbon removal

Source: The Breakthrough Institute

The European Commission approved a proposal for the first EU-wide voluntary framework to securely certify high-quality carbon reductions at the end of November 2022. The proposal aims to advance sustainable carbon farming practises and cutting-edge carbon removal technology in order to support the EU's climate, environmental, and zero-pollution goals. With the new law, the EU's ability to measure, track, and confirm carbon reductions will be much enhanced. According to the initiative's proponents, higher transparency will ensure industry and stakeholder trust and prevent greenwashing. The Commission states that it will prioritise carbon removal operations that will result in considerable advantages for biodiversity. Carbon removal can and must result in clear benefits for the climate.[ii] Four ‘QU.A.L.ITY’ standards are established by the proposed regulation to guarantee the calibre and comparability of carbon removals:

  • Quantification: Carbon removal efforts must be precisely measured and show a clear climate benefit.
  • Additionality: Carbon removal actions must go above and beyond what is mandated by law and current practises.
  • Long-term storage: To assure permanent storage, certificates are linked to the amount of time that carbon is stored.
  • Sustainability: Carbon removal efforts must support or protect sustainability goals like climate change adaptation, a circular economy, the conservation of water and marine resources, and biodiversity.[iii]

It’s not just the EU that are working to formalise the carbon removal process. In the US, the federal carbon removal act was ratified by the senate earlier this year. This bill directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to up carbon removal processes to 10 million tons by 2035. It also requires the DOE to “ensure best practice” across any carbon removal projects it funds. The ramifications of failing to meet these standards remain unclear other than the likelihood of further contracts not being awarded.[iv]

Reaction to the new EU legislation

A group of eight environmental organisations argued in an open letter, published on the day of the EU’s press release, that the EU was wrong to emphasise technologies such as carbon capture and storage because they were "not currently viable at scale and have potentially enormous social, environmental, and economic risks and costs from their very high energy and resource consumption as well as from the transport and storage of carbon dioxide." Another group of seven environmental organisations, including the WWF and the European Environmental Bureau, wrote to the European Commission earlier this month before the legislation had been published in full. Their letter said that “differentiation between permanent and short-term storage is critical, and short or medium-term ‘stores’ of carbon (such as bio-based building materials, plastics or textiles, typically only usable for up to a few decades at most) should not be equated with permanent storage in any way.”[v]

The theme of the letter explaining the importance of differentiating between carbon removals based on their longevity is one that extends beyond clarification alone. Several other facets of the legislation have seen accusations of being too vague. Bellona, a non-profit organisation focusing on environmental issues, has said that the EU text is weakened by its own definition of carbon removals, which they claim lacks robustness. They also say that the regulation’s plan for monitoring lacks clarity and that attaching liability to the assurance of the proper handling of the carbon removal over time is vital to the efficacy of the removal and, as such, must be central to the certification process.[vi]

The EU has defended their position on this legislation. Firstly, on the accusation that the exploration of “not currently viable” technologies, Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the EU's executive Commission, simply said: “It’s additional to what we’re doing, and it’s not instead of what we’re doing,”.[vii] This statement should resonate with any who are seeking to reach net zero through the use of similar techniques in that they cannot exist in isolation from other carbon reductions. Accusations of vagueness may be premature; the commission plans state that the legislation is still at an early stage and that tailored methodologies for each different kind of removal could go some way to assuaging the concerns of environmental organisations.[viii]

In the meantime, the early signs of a certification process for carbon removals could well portend a global push for a more rigid set of guidelines. As such, this may represent a good time for internal reviews of any reliance on carbon credits that are fulfilled through carbon removals and make certain that they will stand up to any future necessity for certification.


[i] WRI- Assessing carbon removal pathways, their potential, barriers and policy options to accelerate development as part of a suite of climate actions.

[ii] European Commission- European Green Deal: Commission proposes certification of carbon removals to help reach net zero emissions

[iii] Ibid

[iv] WRI- Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act of 2022

[v] Financial times- EU’s proposed carbon removal rules open to greenwashing, say experts

[vi] Bellona- Certifying removals, an essential step for net-zero

[vii] ABC News- EU climate chief defends plans for 'carbon farming'

[viii] Ibid

Related Insights

Thank you! We'll keep you posted!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

Oscar's Insights