Adoption of global criteria for carbon removals delayed until COP28

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The adoption of criteria for carbon removal certificates that countries can buy on international carbon markets has been delayed for a year after national delegations at COP27 criticised the proposed text and agreed more work needs to be done.

The criteria, which will be laid out under Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement, will serve as the basis for countries to work together to meet part of their climate targets by trading emissions removal certificates.

As the world aims for climate neutrality, countries need to drastically reduce emissions, but also increase carbon removals to lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and compensate for emissions that cannot be reduced.

Almost all carbon removals today come from natural solutions, like reforestation projects, which increase the amount of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere. Technical solutions are also being tested, such as direct air capture (DAC) systems involving giant fans that suck CO2 from the air.

These removals can be supported in different ways, including via public funds or trading on voluntary carbon markets, where they can be bought by private entities to offset their emissions.

Redwood Forest (Photo: Ian Kennedy/Flickr)

Almost all carbon removals today come from natural solutions, like reforestation projects, which increase the amount of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere. Redwood Forest (Photo: Ian Kennedy/Flickr)

Once the recommendations on Article 6.4 are adopted, removals certificates traded on voluntary carbon markets can contribute to countries achieving or overshooting their Paris Agreement targets – their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“It is essential to get it right,” says Eve Tamme, a carbon removals policy expert, explaining that the adopted text will be the foundation of every future decision adopted on removals.

At COP26 last year, a supervisory body was set up and tasked to put forward recommendations for trading carbon removals for this year’s UN climate conference in Egypt.

However, these failed to be adopted due to a “range of shortcomings” highlighted by several parties, according to Tamme, who was following the discussion.

Countries criticised the lacking language on human rights and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. They also warned against adopting the recommendations without a proper methodology to verify them and account for emissions released back into the atmosphere.

“Such feedback was not surprising given the immense time pressure the supervisory board had to work under to deliver recommendations on such a complex topic,” said Tamme.

“The fact that the Article 6.4 removals recommendations were not adopted has a positive impact. There is now time and space to develop robust recommendations for the whole suite of carbon removal methods,” she added.

The proposal also came under fire from the NGO Carbon Market Watch, which said the concept of permanence was addressed “in an extremely weak fashion” and argued that none of the proposed definitions of removals or ‘removal activities’ were “good and appropriate”.

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