The second carbon sequestration expert panel meeting left many questions unanswered

The second meeting of the EU Expert Group on Carbon Sequestration took place last week on June 21-22, bringing together dozens of stakeholders to discuss methods for measuring the climate impact of activities focused on soil carbon, forestry and peatlands. The two-day meeting focused on a series of presentations on the existing nature-based carbon accounting system, many of which came from issuers of nature-based carbon credits. This system leaves little time for meaningful debate, comparison of methods, or in-depth considerations.

In particular, the following stand out:

1 – Not enough information is provided for meaningful analysis or comparison of methods. A call for input before the expert panel gathered a range of methods currently in use or for quantifying soil carbon, forestry and peatlands, with some initial sets in advance of the meeting. However, the level of analysis is insufficient to assess the merits and limitations of the methods considered. In particular, the analysis focused on the methods currently in use, thus excluding the most recent findings, and only assessed whether the Qu.ALitY criteria were in general consideration (as proposed by the Commission). Carbon Removal Certification Framework) rather than comparing how each of those criteria was addressed. It should also be noted that these criteria are currently being revised by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe in accordance with the normal legislative process.

2 – The structure of the meeting raises questions. The organization of the agenda for this second meeting was a significant improvement previous iteration, have some questions. The expert panel’s agenda left little time for discussion, with questions usually relegated to the end of the presentation panels, which often ran over time. Moderators rarely make significant efforts to encourage panelists or participants to answer questions, and many questions raised are ignored. Also, at the end of each of the three sessions, a rapporteur – a Category-A member appointed by the Commission before the meeting – gave a personal reflection on the session for which they were responsible. It is emphasized that this summary is strictly an unofficial view. However, the appointment and role of the rapporteur was not clear, including why the rapporteurs were not Commission representatives, or why they were allowed to make individual comments rather than simply summarize session presentations and discussions. It is also unclear what influence and authority their summary will have.

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3 – Participants were told not to raise issues with the use of methods, although these topics were regularly discussed by panelists and reporters. Participants were repeatedly instructed to focus on methodological topics such as “scalability, redundancy, long-term storage, digital tools”. Accounting vs. long-term credit; as a completely separate policy or as part of a larger set of standards) is the basis for assessing which tools and methods are most appropriate. However, this same restriction was not placed on panelists or presenters, who themselves brought up topics such as offsetting, insetting or national accounting.

At present, the expert panel meeting is not a constructive forum for evaluating or designing frameworks for developing carbon removal systems. Improvements that lead to better collaboration—and more efficient use of members’ time—include:

1 – Design for conversation, allowing more time for discussion among participants and instructing evaluators to ensure that questions raised are answered correctly, without hanging up. Workshops in small groups or breakout discussions can facilitate constructive conversations rather than solely dedicated to plenary sessions.

2 – Bring in more independent expertise, including academics and civil society (eg, NGOs and associations not representing profit motives). While it is important to include users and providers of carbon removal systems, a more balanced perspective should include more actors who do not stand to directly pay or profit from the design of the system. Today’s use of a method in an unregulated voluntary carbon market should not be considered a reliable credential, but rather methods should be evaluated by independent academic experts based on validated and reproducible research. Furthermore, issues such as acceptable uncertainties, baselines, sustainability criteria, and accountability periods are not just technical issues, but concerns of social values—and this dialogue should include broader perspectives than the current set of expert groups.

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3 – Recognize that the ends define the means – If the CRCF and its measurement methods are to be fit for purpose, that purpose must be clearly defined. Restricting participants from discussing the use cases of carbon removal certification methods prevents the effective design of those methods. For example, the results directly affect the measurement tools used (eg, project-level or regional accounting) and the acceptable levels of uncertainty, and the user of the measured removal determines the appropriate baselines. (eg, physical, regulatory, and/or financial) must be accounted for.

During the meeting, the commission called for the need for „more accurate, more standardized, less expensive and regionally specific” measurement methods. Nevertheless, despite the limitations of the expert panel’s format and content, a clear lack of consensus was found on appropriate methods, metrics, and baselines for measuring carbon in above- and belowground biomass. acceptable level of uncertainty; or appropriate use cases for potential „carbon credits” arising from such measurement. This disagreement does not mean that none of the competing methods are acceptable, but rather that none of them exist. The lack of a sufficiently robust and usable measurement framework should not be used as an excuse to allow sub-measurement methods for the purpose of results-based incentives. Such action would lead to funding labeled 'carbon sequestration’ without producing the desired effect of reducing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. When providing units of measure for CDR and transactions, it is better to say “I don’t know” than to be disastrously wrong.

It must be emphasized that the current lack of workable consensus is not an excuse for inaction. We need healthy soils, forests and peatlands, but there are other types of incentives and metrics than project-level „per tonne” carbon credits. CRCF is a blunt instrument and reconstruction, regenerating carbon-rich ecosystems is a complex problem that requires precise, adaptive and action-oriented approaches.

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Bellona recommends that the CRCF, an expert group supporting its development, allow performance-based incentives, which are currently not on the agenda of discussions.

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