Regulations and the future of EU carbon farming initiative
Friday, January 7, 2022
he European Union aims for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a target legally bound by the European Green Deal. This means removals and emissions of greenhouse gasses must be balanced, while also aiming to strengthen resilience to climate change impacts, by 2050 and beyond.
Seen as a key tool to meet EU targets on climate, environment, and economy is carbon farming. These are sustainable land management practices to increase the amount of carbon captured and stored in plants and soils. And two goals are currently under consideration:
Climate neutrality for the entire land sector by 2035; and
Net annual removal of greenhouse gasses to 310 MtCO2eq by 2030, where carbon farming initiatives should contribute to 42 MtCO2eq (just a little over 13%).
On top of its climate mitigation potential, existing markets around carbon farming unlock additional economic benefits for participants. And if carbon farming is to be widely adopted as a viable green business opportunity within the decade, a clear pathway addressing crucial challenges in carbon farming must be established soon.
What would regulations in carbon farming in the EU look like? When regulatory frameworks are announced starting in 2022, expect guidelines for these 4 key areas that reinforce efforts to improve and speed up carbon farming adoption in EU member states.
Adopting a common standard for monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon credits
Carbon farming aims to enhance the storage of carbon in ecosystems with biodiversity benefits and the reduction of carbon released to the atmosphere. Claiming successful carbon sequestration should be subject to accurate monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). Otherwise, bigger risks of emission reversals with false carbon credits threaten the development of successful carbon markets and meaningful climate action.
Compliance carbon markets such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and voluntary carbon markets typically facilitated by private organisations should work to complement legally-binding climate action.
Voluntary carbon markets can especially be susceptible to generating cheap carbon credits gained from misguided benchmarks with no oversight. This is dangerous for farmers and land managers’ bottom-line management, and buyers are at risk of investing in carbon offset credits that don’t actually contribute to their carbon mitigation plans.
To standardise MRV within EU carbon farming allows for transparency, environmental integrity, and a more robust management system that limits risks and uncertainties in carbon farming by generating true high-quality carbon credits.
A regulatory framework on carbon removal certifications
The certification of carbon removals validates whether or not carbon credits generated through carbon farming are authentic. Authentic carbon credits must have sufficient guarantees on storage duration (permanence), unambiguous measurements, and provisions on managing risks of carbon reversals and leakage.
A sound certification framework must adhere to a set of scientifically robust requirements that lowers the risks of error and fraud in carbon markets. Moreover, the framework also aims to enhance transparency on climate targets reports by organisations fulfilling corporate sustainability reports and such.
The commission will involve a deeper collaboration between academia, public and private organisations, and civil society to support the development of an EU-wide certification concept and implementation mechanisms.
Improving farmers’ knowledge, tools, and skills
The European Commission 2022 communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles highlights:
Updated EU directives on carbon farming could see further investing in farmers’ knowledge formation and training. Granting access to updated datasets and tools for monitoring and measurement will help farmers and land managers make informed decisions on how to sustainably manage farms.
Farms of various sizes and conditions, as well as farmers of different experiences, should have updated data made available to them. Equipping farmers with proper information will enable more reliable calculations to annual goals while enabling long-term knowledge-building that could see transformative changes in the agriculture industry within the century.
A switch to carbon farming in the region is a big ask for many farmers, and a lot of preparations must be made. To support advisory services, and knowledge and skills transfer, EU carbon farming will adopt the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS) under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
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Conclusion: recognising the importance of carbon farming
The European Commission is currently developing a framework for the certification of carbon removals, as well as a common standard for monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon credits, fast-track adoption with access to public funds, and enhancing agricultural knowledge formation and tools for carbon farming.
While the points mentioned above are not exhaustive, developing directives that support the EU Green Deal can accelerate carbon farming as a viable green business model built with credibility, transparency, and environmental integrity. Carbon farming is complementary to larger mitigation efforts and overall reduction to reliance on greenhouse gas-polluting activities.
Developing robust frameworks for EU carbon farming reinforce region-wide best practices ensuring implementation is done properly for both public and private carbon program schemes. Authentic carbon credits also take other co-benefits into account such as biodiversity and ecosystem enhancements and climate effects resilience, while providing incentives to farmers and land managers.
European Commission (2021). Communication From the Commission to The European Parliament and The Council. Sustainable Carbon Cycles. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/system/files/2021-12/com_2021_800_en_0.pdf
European Commission, Directorate-General for Climate Action, Radley, G., Keenleyside, C., Frelih-Larsen, A., et al., Setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU : technical guidance handbook, Publications Office, 2021, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2834/056153
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