Official: EU taking first steps to bring forestry into carbon market
23 October 2020 | Trading
The first step to bring forestry under the EU’s emissions trading scheme is to ensure that every tonne of carbon dioxide in the forest is counted so that a certification system for carbon removals can be put in place, Artur Runge-Metzger said.
Artur Runge-Metzger is the director at the European Commission’s department for climate action, where he is in charge of climate strategy, governance and emissions from non-trading sectors.
- “Every tonne” of carbon dioxide in EU forests has to be counted, reported and monitored.
- The European Commission is looking at “carbon farming” to encourage farmers to uptake carbon in soils or vegetation.
- The European Commission is working on a certification system for carbon removals that should be ready “by 2023”.
- Certificates will be issued for each tonne of carbon dioxide stored in forests or agricultural land.
- But if a forest goes up in flames, the corresponding certificate will have to be cancelled.
- Forests could be brought under the ETS once the certificate is robust enough.
The European Commission’s 2030 climate plan presented two weeks ago, places more emphasis on forestry and agriculture in the EU’s fight against climate change. In particular, the Commission said the capacity of forests to act as “carbon sinks” has been decreasing over the years and needs to be reversed. So how does the Commission intend to achieve this?
Since 2013, the carbon sink decreased in Europe and that is worrying. Farmers and foresters have incentives to do many other lucrative things with their land than keeping the capacity of forests and soils to act as carbon sinks.
On top of this comes climate change itself, which is taking its toll in terms of droughts, diseases and pests that are encroaching on European forests and land. Therefore, a way needs to be found to encourage farmers and foresters to do address these adverse effects – to reforest areas, which might no longer be adapted to the future climate.
And first, forests need to be counted better – every tonne of carbon dioxide in the forest has to be counted. Under the Kyoto Protocol, not all forest was accounted for, there were specific rules and limitations.
So, the first thing is to count the forest. And this is something the Commission outlined clearly already in the long-term climate strategy for 2050, by which time remaining emissions need to be balanced with carbon removals. And after 2050, this balance will have to go net-negative.
Hence, carbon removals are going to play an important role, which is why it is important to accurately count and report them. This is being done today in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The way it is being reported to the UNFCCC takes the full sink into account. And in order to get to climate neutrality by 2050, we want to start counting in the same way in the year 2030.
Europe wasn’t counting carbon removals until now?
Today, carbon removals are only partly accounted for. As long as they are not fully counted, it risks not being adequately reflected in the decision making. And that means the incentives are difficult to get right.
Secondly, we want to help in terms of afforestation in Europe and to plant 3 billion trees in the coming decade. This is something that the Commission will work on in the context of the upcoming forest strategy.
A third important initiative is what is called “carbon farming” to see how Member State governments can incentivise the uptake of carbon in soils or vegetation, and to make sure that these are also permanent removals.
A sink is not per se irreversible, it can be reversed. So one always has to carefully monitor in order to get the numbers right in terms of removals.
The Commission’s stated objective is to stop carbon sinks from decreasing and start growing them again. Does this mean the Commission will somehow put a limit on the number of trees that can be harvested in Europe? Is that something that will inevitably come at some point?
I don’t think this is going to be necessary. Looking at the projections for 2050, and in particular at the balance between removals and remaining emissions, some greenhouse gas emissions will be inevitable – for instance cows will continue to emit methane. In order to find a way to balance these residual emissions, there will be a demand for carbon removals.
In principle, carbon removals can be achieved in different ways than through forest and soils – there are also technical solutions like carbon capture and storage. However, there are limitations to CCS in terms of cost, storage capacity and public acceptance.
At the end of the day, there will have to be a balance between demand and supply for such carbon removals. This will provide an incentive for forestry activities or soil conservation. In this way, limits would not have to be set.