In a Nutshell
The London Protocol prohibits all forms of marine dumping unless explicitly permitted to control marine pollution.
The London Protocol was introduced in 1996 to modernise and eventually replace the “Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972″, also known as the London Convention. The Protocol was developed and agreed to by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and entered into force in 2006. It introduced a ‘reverse list’ approach, which outlines wastes and other matters that can be considered for dumping. Carbon dioxide used to be excluded from this list.
The London Protocol is of high significance for carbon dioxide removal, as it provides the international legal basis for sub-seabed geological storage of CO2 and for transboundary CO2 transport in international marine environments. The London Protocol also regulates marine geoengineering, which includes ocean fertilisation.
As the result of an amendment to the Protocol adopted in 2006, carbon dioxide is one of the wastes that can be considered for dumping in marine environments under specific conditions. This amendment provided the legal basis in international law for CO2 sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations and entered into force in 2007.
Until recently, the transboundary transport of CO2 for the purposes of sub-seabed geological storage was prohibited by the Protocol. A legal solution was found in 2019, allowing individual parties to the Protocol to opt in and get permission to conduct such activities, following an amendment adopted in 2009 still pending entry into force.
What's on the Horizon?
The first bilateral arrangement regarding the transborder transport of CO2 for geological storage under Article 6 of the London Protocol was signed between Belgium and Denmark on 26 September 2022. Several other European countries have signalled their willingness to adopt such arrangements and have already engaged in bilateral processes, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.
Background on the London Convention and the London Protocol
The London Convention, established under the International Maritime Organisation, was adopted in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It consisted of a grey list of substances that could be considered for dumping under strict control and a black list of substances that were prohibited under any condition. All other substances could be dumped after a permit had been issued.
Adopted in 1996, the London Protocol replaces the Convention and is built around the precautionary principle. Except for the substances listed in its reverse list in Annex 1, the dumping of any substance is strictly prohibited. When it entered into force in March 2006, the list comprised seven substances, including sewage sludge and dredged material.
Inclusion of CO2 in the reverse list
A 2006 amendment included CO2 streams from carbon dioxide capture and sequestration in waste and other forms of dumping materials. It stipulates that levels of radioactivity shall not be greater than those specified in the Protocol, the CO2 captured must be disposed of in sub-seabed geological formations, the stream must consist overwhelmingly of CO2, and no wastes or other matters can be added for the purpose of disposing.
Transborder transport of CO2
In the initial text of the Protocol, Article 6 prohibited the export to other countries of all substances for dumping or incineration at sea. In 2009, Norway submitted an amendment proposal to allow the export of CO2 streams for disposal in sub-seabed geological formations, provided that an agreement or arrangement is made between the countries concerned. This amendment was adopted in late 2009. However, it has yet to enter into force as of August 2023, as fewer than two-thirds of the parties to the Protocol have ratified it so far. The countries that have ratified it are Norway, the UK, the Netherlands, Iran, Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and the Republic of Korea. Germany and France are in the process of ratifying the amendment.
To avoid this legislative roadblock, Norway and the Netherlands co-filed a resolution to allow the provisional application of the 2009 amendment. They claimed that the EU CCS Directive provided sufficiently strong protection for human health and environmental safety. This resolution was adopted in 2019, meaning that two countries or more can now export CO2 for sub-seabed geological storage, provided that they have ratified the Article 6 amendment and submitted a formal declaration of provisional application to the IMO. The first bilateral arrangement was signed between Belgium and Denmark on 26 September, 2022. Several other European countries have signalled their willingness to adopt such arrangements, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland.
Marine geoengineering within the London Protocol
The London Protocol provides one of the few international legal frameworks around marine geoengineering, defined as “a deliberate intervention in the marine environment to manipulate natural processes, including to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts, and that has the potential to result in deleterious effects, especially where those effects may be widespread, long-lasting or severe”.
In 2008, parties to the Protocol adopted a resolution to regulate ocean fertilisation, deciding that such activities are against the aims of the Convention and the Protocol unless conducted for legitimate scientific purposes. It also called for the creation of a framework to assess scientific research proposals. In 2013, parties to the Protocol adopted another resolution to provide a regulatory framework not only for ocean fertilisation but for other marine geoengineering activities, such as alkalinity enhancement, seabed rocks mineralisation or deposition of crop wastes on the seabed. Eligible activities are listed in Annex 4 of the resolution, and it currently only consists of ocean mineralisation. Therefore, other types of marine geoengineering are currently prohibited under the London Protocol. It is to be noted that this resolution is non-binding, meaning that parties could choose not to respect it without clear consequences.
Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter
Entry into force of the London Convention
Adoption of the London Protocol to update and eventually replace the London Convention
Entry into force of the London Protocol
Adoption of an amendment to the Protocol to allow sub-seabed geological storage of CO2
Entry into force of the November 2006 amendment to the London Protocol
Amendment to the London Protocol to allow transboundary CO2 transport
Amendment to the Protocol to regulate marine geoengineering, including ocean fertilisation
Permission of provisional application of the 2009 CO2 transport amendment through bilateral arrangements
Denmark and Belgium signed the first bilateral agreement on cross-border transportation of CO2 for the purpose of permanent geological storage
1996 Protocol To The Convention On The Prevention Of Marine Pollution By Dumping Of Wastes And Other Matter, 1972
The London Protocol
In a Nutshell
Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement establishes the Article 6.4 mechanism, a market-based instrument that countries can voluntarily use to trade credits from emission reduction and removal projects. Under the mechanism, reducing emission levels in one country can be used by another country to fulfill its climate target, Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
Often seen as a tool to help countries achieve their climate targets cost-effectively, its real goal is to bring about higher ambition – enabling countries to do more than they could without using it. It’s built to incentivise and facilitate the participation of authorised public and private entities by crediting their emission reduction and removal activities. The projects need to deliver an overall mitigation in global emissions.
It’s a centralised UN crediting mechanism governed by Article 6.4 Supervisory Body. Being a successor of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol, it will operate under the Paris Agreement, where all countries have climate targets. This means that the host countries need to know that they can still meet their climate targets when selling credits via the Article 6.4 mechanism, and double counting of the same emission reductions or removals must be avoided through the double-entry bookkeeping for emissions accounting (“corresponding adjustments”).
Among its other work in setting up the instrument, the Supervisory Body is preparing the foundation for how the Article 6.4 mechanism will apply to removals. There is a growing ecosystem of novel removal methods, and many of these are poised to be used by countries in their climate targets. Given the lack of broadly accepted international accounting rules for a range of removal methods, the decisions taken under Article 6.4, and the methodologies approved under it, are bound to have an outsized impact on carbon markets globally.
What's on the Horizon?
- The Article 6.4 Supervisory Body has prepared recommendations on methodologies and removals. These recommendations have been sent for approval and were reviewed at the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA5 – during COP28). If the recommendations are approved, Article 6.4 will become operational in principle. More recommendations from the SB will be needed to make Article 6.4 fully operational.
- The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is preparing recommendations on including emission avoidance and conservation enhancement activities in the scope of Article 6.4 mechanism, authorisation of credits, and connection between registries for adoption at CMA5 (during COP28).
Getting the Article 6.4 mechanism up and running will take a few years.
How will it work?
The Article 6.4 Supervisory Body is responsible for establishing guidance and procedures, approving methodologies, registering projects, issuing credits, and more.
Methodologies may be developed by project participants, host countries, stakeholders, or the Supervisory Body.
The credits are called the Article 6.4 Emission Reductions (A6.4ERs). These are used for both emission reductions and carbon removal. The host country will have to authorise A6.4ERs and account for these by applying corresponding adjustments unless the A6.4 ERs contribute to the national target in the host country (mitigation contribution A6.4ERs).
Removal activities get a maximum of 15-year crediting periods, renewable twice. The mechanism credits emission reductions and removals by public and private sector actors.
2% of Article 6.4 credits are subject to cancellation (“Overall Mitigation in Global Emissions” clause), 5% of credits are dedicated to the Adaptation Fund (“Share of Proceeds for Adaptation”) and other fees for registration, inclusion, issuance, renewal, and post-registration apply as well (“Share of Proceeds for Administrative Expenses”).
Many other details are yet to be ironed out, listed in the “Open elements” section below.
How will removals be covered?
Whilst the mechanism covers emission reductions and removals, it will likely focus on emission reductions in the coming decade, with interest in removals growing as climate targets get closer to net zero and beyond.
The Supervisory Body has been tasked with preparing a general framework for including the full spectrum of carbon removal methods under Article 6.4, called “recommendations”, to be approved at CMA5 during COP28.
For the first time, novel carbon removal methods will be tackled under the Paris Agreement, and the recommendations will set a precedent by establishing broad removals-specific rules under the UN crediting mechanism.
Two separate ongoing work streams are ironing out the details of the mechanism – (1) the Supervisory Body and (2) the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) where international climate negotiations under the Paris Agreement are ongoing on the technical elements.
The Supervisory Body has a busy work program for 2023 and has been tasked to prepare several deliverables for adoption for CMA5 (during COP28). This includes recommendations on methodologies (baseline, monitoring methodologies, methodology development process, review), recommendations on activities involving removals (monitoring, reporting, accounting for removals and crediting periods, addressing reversals, avoidance of leakage), transitioning the Clean Development Mechanism into the Article 6.4 mechanism, developing accreditation standard, and designing project activity cycle.
SBSTA is negotiating recommendations on including emission avoidance1 and conservation enhancement activities in the scope of Article 6.4 mechanism, authorisation of credits by host countries, and work on the registry. These discussions are very technical, have continued throughout the Bonn Climate Conference in June 2023, and will be submitted for adoption at CMA5 during COP28.
1 Emission avoidance in this context mainly refers narrowly to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+ projects), not to be confused with how the term “emission avoidance” is used in the voluntary carbon markets where some stakeholders use it as a blanket term for emission reductions and avoidance.
How can stakeholders engage with the Article 6.4 process?
Documents for stakeholder input will be published at least a week before each Supervisory Body meeting. Any organisation can provide written input before meetings, but only UNFCCC-accredited observer organisations can attend the Supervisory Body meetings. Everyone can follow the live stream and watch recordings of past sessions.
|Deadline for registering as an observer
|Deadline for submitting public comments on the meeting agenda
|10-13 July 2023
|11-14 September 2023
|10 October to 2 November 2023
In June 2023, the UNFCCC launched a dedicated Article 6.4 newsletter covering the latest news, calls for inputs and other announcements from the Supervisory Body.
The negotiations under SBSTA take place in 2-week sessions twice a year during the Bonn Climate Conference and COP.
The Paris Agreement is adopted
The Paris Agreement enters into force
CMA3/COP26 Glasgow – Adoption of the rules, modalities and procedures for Article 6.4 mechanism
Adoption of guidance on Article 6.4, elaborating on key processes and principles, providing SBSTA to work on remaining elements, and mandating the Supervisory Body to operationalise the mechanism
Request for submissions by Parties and admitted observer organisations to submit their views on activities involving removals via the submission portal
Article 6.4 Supervisory Body stakeholder webinar
Public consultation on the three SBSTA working areas on Article 6.4 (inclusion of emission avoidance and conservation enhancement, registries, authorisation of credits)
Technical expert dialogue on the three SBSTA working areas on Article 6.4 (inclusion of emission avoidance and conservation enhancement, registries, authorisation of credits)
The SB has approved the long-awaited recommendations on activities involving carbon dioxide removal and Article 6.4 mechanism methodologies.
CMA5/COP28 in Dubai. The Article 6.4 Supervisory Body’s recommendations on removals and methodologies have been sent for approval to CMA5.
Article 6.4 Mechanism
- Achieving Overall Mitigation of Global Emissions under the Paris Article 6.4 Mechanism (2019), by Wuppertal Institute
- Designing the Article 6.4 mechanism: assessing selected baseline approaches and their implications (2019), by OECD and IEA
- Best available technology and benchmark baseline setting under the Article 6.4 mechanism (2021), by Perspective Climate Group
- Private sector engagement in Article 6- A post-COP27 analysis (December 2022) by Philip Lee LLP
- Cooperative approaches or Article 6.4 mechanism: which of the Article 6 market mechanism will win the race to engage the private sector? (February 2023) by Holman Fenwick Willan LLP
- UN standard-setters turn their attention to carbon removal (Oct 2022), by Eve Tamme and Paul Zakkour
- COP27: Paving the way for the “removals COP” (Nov 2022), by Eve Tamme and Paul Zakkour
- EU and UN Kickstart Their Work on Carbon Removal for 2023 (March 2023), by Eve Tamme
- Challenges for Carbon Removal under the UN Standard (May 2023), by Eve Tamme
Mechanism established by Article 6, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement