Carbon farming law only ‘first step’ in negative emissions push
The EU executive’s proposed legislation on carbon sinks is only the first step in a broader effort to certify negative emissions in agriculture, as well as remunerate and potentially trade them, according to a Commission official.
Back in November 2022, the EU executive tabled proposals for a regulation detailing bloc-wide standards for certifying the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, including carbon farming and agricultural practices to sequestre carbon in the soil.
However, the proposal did not include any indication of what will happen with the EU-stamped carbon removal certificates and where funding for carbon farming measures should come from.
More specifically, it remained unclear whether such certificates will be traded on public or private carbon markets, remunerated through funding schemes such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), or not tied to any financial instruments at all.
But according to Christian Holzleitner, head of the unit at the European Commission’s directorate-general for climate (DG CLIMA), more clarity could come in the future through legislative proposals that follow up on the regulation.
November’s proposal is not meant to be a “holistic policy” but a first step, he explained during a joint hearing of the European Parliament’s agriculture and environment committees on Wednesday (22 March).
However, as the end of the legislative mandate approaches, the last chance for the Commission to make some addition is the EU’s framework for a sustainable food systems (FSFS) law, which is expected in the third quarter of this year.
A question of funding
“We are taking it step by step,” Holzleitner stressed. Irrespective of how measures will be funded, “we must first understand the monitoring, reporting, and verification – we must be able to know how much carbon is stored for how long,” he added.
Holzleitner did not specify what a future funding model could look like. “I know there are very different views on that,” he contended. However, he hinted that carbon removal certificates could be traded on carbon markets.
“The important question is: who can make a claim to that removal,” the official said. Either, he explained, a farmer sells his negative emission certificate to another company looking to offset its emissions, or they keep the certificate to work towards carbon neutrality within their own value chain.
However, Holzleitner did not clarify if this would happen on voluntary, private or state-led carbon markets.
For many of those involved, meanwhile, the question of where funding for carbon farming measures should come from is key.
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To trade or not to trade
Speaking at the hearing, Celia Nyssens, senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), called to rely on public money rather than negative emissions certificates that can be sold to other actors who seek to offset their emissions.
The campaigner warned that creating the opportunity for companies and other actors to offset their emissions at a relatively low cost could lead to a “deterrence effect.”
“If you can buy cheap offsets, why reduce your emissions? It is so much easier and often cheaper to buy the offsets,” she said, adding carbon removals and emission reductions should not be pitched against each other.
Should funding come in the form of public money dispensed to those who implement carbon farming measures, meanwhile, it is also contentious where such funds should be taken from.
While Nyssens suggested support for carbon storage should come from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), socialist lawmaker Clara Aguilera warned this would overstrain the CAP budget.
“We need to reduce pesticides, we need to restore nature using CAP funding,” the Spanish MEP said regarding the pesticides legislation and the nature restoration law currently discussed in Brussels, both of which could necessitate financial support from CAP funds.
“If we are also going to pay for carbon storage with the CAP, either we will need to revise the budgetary framework or we are not going to get there,” she stressed.
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