Carbon Farming: Can the EU deliver a key carbon credit certification framework for farmers?

Carbon Farming

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor, British Agriculture Bureau

In November 2022, the Commission proposed an EU regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals based on robust and transparent carbon accounting rules and requirements to monitor and verify the authenticity and environmental integrity of high-quality sustainable carbon removals. Such rules will provide the necessary legal framework to scale up carbon farming and industrial solutions removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The proposal aims at establishing an EU-wide voluntary framework for the certification of carbon removals, the first of its kind. In particular, the voluntary framework on carbon removal certification would require the relevant removal activities to provide for net carbon removal benefits according to a specific formula.

It would aim at ensuring that carbon removals are additional, store carbon long-term, and do not hinder concrete sustainability objectives. The proposal would also lay down rules for the certification of carbon removals by certification bodies appointed by public or private certification schemes recognised by the Commission. It sets out criteria to define high-quality carbon removals and the process to monitor, report and verify the authenticity of these removals. With this certification framework, the aim is to boost innovative carbon removal technologies and sustainable carbon farming solutions, while fighting greenwashing.

How will it be certified?

The EU certification of carbon removals will be developed in two steps. Firstly, the Commission will set up high-level QUALITY criteria under the proposed Regulation. Secondly, the Commission will approve detailed certification rules for the measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon removals from both industrial and nature-based activities.

In order to demonstrate that carbon removals comply with the EU quality criteria, operators of carbon removal activities will need to apply to a public or private certification scheme that has been recognised or approved by the Commission. The activities of carbon removal operators will be regularly verified and certified by independent certification bodies that will check compliance with EU rules. This process will result in the issuing of certificates of compliance and in the recording of carbon removal units in public registries managed by certification schemes. All the relevant information on the certified removals will be publicly accessible preventing the risk of double-counting and fraud, and help the providers of carbon removals to access different types of financing opportunities.

What do Member States and MEPs think?

In late November 2023, the European Parliament decided to go beyond the scope of the new EU framework for certifying carbon sinks in farming by providing for the remuneration and trading of negative emission certificates. They have also exceeded the original objectives of the Commission’s proposal to include rules relating to the use of certificates, with potential linkages with other EU legislations (i.e., Corporate GHG inventory reporting, emission trading systems (ETS) and a post-2030 target). In fact, the aim of the Certification Framework for Carbon Removals and Carbon Farming should not be to establish how to use certificates, which should be done through the Green Claims Directive, but to ensure their quality. 

On its side, on 17 November, the Council adopted its negotiating mandate for talks with the EU Parliament. The negotiating mandate, which was agreed at Coreper level, covers carbon farming (e.g., restoring forests and soil, and wetland management), carbon storage in long-lasting products (such as wood-based construction), and reductions of emissions from agricultural soils, as long as they result, overall, in an improvement of the soil carbon balance.

Both institutions acknowledge the voluntary nature of certification and the establishment of an EU-wide registry. The Council and the European Parliament also agreed on making it mandatory to have co-benefits linked to carbon credits but did also pledge a premium. They maintained the proposed QU.A.L.ITY criteria and the request to develop tailored certification methodologies for different types of carbon removal and soil emission reduction activities by the Commission (assisted by an expert group).

What next?

The first inter institutional trilogue was held on 28 November where the Commission, Council and parliament began the process of trying to reconcile their respective positions. Belgium took over the Presidency of the Council on 1 January 2024 and committed to concluding interinstitutional negotiations on the proposals for the certification of carbon removals during their six month term. However, European Elections will be held in June and so time is running out to finalise legislative files before we enter election mode.

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