In a Nutshell
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aims to support farmers and ensure Europe’s food security. It sets out the EU legal framework and funds the support member states can provide to agriculture, forestry, and rural development. It has a double objective of ensuring Europe’s food security and incentivising environmentally friendly agriculture.
The CAP has greatly evolved since its creation in 1962. In its latest iteration, the CAP 2023-2027 pursues 10 overreaching objectives aimed at ensuring agricultural productivity and farmers’ income while encouraging environmentally friendly practices.
The total budget of the CAP 2023-2027 amounts to EUR 386.6 billion. The budget is divided into two funds, which are often referred to as the two pillars of the CAP:
- The European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which totals EUR 291.1 billion, provides direct support to farmers and funds market measures.
- The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, with a total allocation of EUR 95.5 billion dedicated to rural development.
Each country implements the CAP 2023-2027 at their national level through a CAP Strategic Plan. These plans operationalise the numerous targeted interventions each country undertakes while contributing to the ambitions set by the European Green Deal.
Direct payments to support farmers are granted on the condition that they implement “good agricultural and environmental conditions” (GAEC). Around 90% of the total European utilised agricultural area (UAA) is covered by this conditionality. Furthermore, 25% of direct payments are optional and require farmers to implement eco-schemes (specific to each country) rewarding environmentally friendly farming.
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and the CAP interact closely in several important ways. Practices that improve carbon sequestration in soils and ecosystems have many overlaps with soil health and agriculture and thus the CAP. The CAP provides an array of measures aiming to incentivise agroforestry practices, as well as the maintenance and restoration of land ecosystems. Finally, enhanced weathering and biochar are two novel CDR methods that also intersect with farming and may thus interact with the CAP in the future.
There is, however, a dual dynamic within the CAP. On the one hand, some measures within the CAP still indirectly promote intensive farming practices depleting soil carbon stocks. On the other hand, more and more measures are targeted towards improving soil carbon stocks. The significant leeway provided to member states in their implementation of national measures means that the contribution of CAP to carbon removals varies across the EU.
What's on the Horizon?
The CAP 2023-2027 and the national CAP Strategic Plans entered into force on 1 January 2023. In 2024, countries will have to report to the EU Commission on their performances. In 2025, the national CAP Strategic Plans will be reviewed by the EU Commission.
A new obligation to protect wetlands and peatlands will be included in the CAP by 2025 at the latest; wetlands and peatlands are part of the conventional CDR methods.
The Commission will propose an improved methodology to ensure that the contribution of the CAP to climate action is correctly measured and accounted for by 2026 at the latest.
National Strategic Plans and support mechanisms
Within the CAP 2023-2027, CAP National strategic plans operationalise the CAP’s policy objectives at the national level.
The CAP amounts to 20% of the total EU budget and plays an enormous role in the EU’s intervention in the land sector. It provides different support mechanisms:
- income support through direct payments, among others, to incentivise environmentally friendly practices;
- market measures to deal with difficult market situations;
- rural development measures (national and regional programmes to address specific needs and challenges).
Each member state has relative freedom to distribute funding across these three types of support mechanisms and can freely allocate up to 25% of its budget between income support and rural development. The CAP Strategic Plans outline this allocation and describe which measures will be supported within each member state. The CAP 2023-2027 puts higher emphasis on tracking outcomes by setting an annual performance report and a biannual review process for national plans, assessing progress towards their goals and the 10 CAP overarching objectives.
Direct payments use the biggest share of the CAP funding and are conditional to Good Agricultural and Environmental Practices (GAEC), which include measures on maintaining a minimum soil cover, limiting erosion and maintaining soil organic matter, and requiring farmers to save at least 3% of their arable farmland for non-productive areas/features with the possibility to get support to extend it to 7% of the arable land. The new CAP introduces a requirement prohibiting drainage, burning or extraction of peat from peatlands. This prohibition could have a favourable impact on peatlands, allowing them to serve as carbon sinks rather than as sources of carbon emissions.
While a large share of utilised agricultural area (UAA) is set to be farmed under GAECs, only a limited share is set to be under commitments to reduce emissions or to maintain or enhance carbon storage, which includes permanent grassland, permanent crops with a permanent green cover, agricultural land in wetland and peatland. Moreover, this share varies dramatically between countries, from 0% to 85%. The metrics used in the strategic plans are also not the same; some mention the peak coverage year (note: peak year also varies between countries) while others use the average over the 2023-2027 period. It is quite concerning to see that several states currently have no measures to increase soil carbon storage. Experts have also raised the question of whether the measures proposed are enough to reach the objectives set in the strategic plans.
Additional subsidies in the form of eco-schemes can be made available to states as a reward for more environmentally friendly practices. Eco-schemes support various types of voluntary actions that go beyond the CAP’s obligation of conditionality. These include practices related to agro-forestry and carbon farming among others. The Commission has published an extensive list of examples. However, it includes only a handful of practices linked to CDR. Member states are not exploiting this opportunity to the fullest, as only a minority of them plan to use eco-schemes in relation to CDR. Some environmental NGOs raised concerns questioning the eco-schemes’ true environmental benefits.
Carbon farming and related debates
The recent communication by the EU Commission on “Sustainable Carbon Cycles” has highlighted that the CAP should be one of the primary mechanisms to promote carbon farming at the European level, together with LIFE and Horizon Europe’s “Soil Deal for Europe”. The Commission encouraged states to include measures to incentivise carbon farming in their strategic plans. The current efforts on the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRC-F), among others, aim to clarify what good carbon farming practices mean.
There are, however, several issues related to carbon farming that need to be discussed and tackled with high priority.
Firstly, carbon farming is a very loaded term. The EU defines it vaguely as “a green business model to reward farmers for adopting practices leading to carbon sequestration”. Therefore, carbon farming as an economic concept and the underlying practices it encompasses should be separated in order to differentiate the business model from the underlying practices.
Secondly, there is a strong opportunity in the CRCF to make clear that the durability of carbon sequestration in soil is lower than for other CDR methods. Any market-facing claims need to be strictly regulated to ensure that fossil emissions are not compensated for through such practices.
Thirdly, soil carbon sequestration comes along with many co-benefits besides carbon removal. These include improved soil quality, positive biodiversity impacts and better water retention. These practices should thus be incentivised. However, key questions remain, such as who should pay, and be paid, to implement these practices and what the basis for payment should be.
Finally, the measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of soil carbon fluxes is still very much a work in progress. There is currently a trade-off between the accuracy of results and the costs/scalability of methodologies. The EU has yet to determine how best to deploy MRV and at which geographical scale and granularity. The purpose of MRV deployment should be better defined. Furthermore, the commodification of sequestered soil carbon requires more strenuous MRV.
Launched in 1962.
First big reform of the CAP to bring production closer to what the market needs.
Shift from market support to producer support through direct payments to farmers. Farmers are incentivised to endorse more environmentally friendly practices.
The CAP introduces income support tied to environmental, food safety and animal health and welfare requirements
The CAP is once again reformed to increase the competitiveness of the sector, promote sustainable farming and support rural areas.
The EU Parliament, the Council and the Commission agree on the need to reform the CAP again and shift implementation responsibilities.
A transitional agreement is put in place while the reform is negotiated.
Adoption of the CAP 2023-2027.
The CAP 2023-2027 and the CAP strategic plans enter into force.
The EU Commission will submit a report to assess the joint CAP strategic plans in reaching Green Deal targets.
Each country will present an annual performance report.
The Commission will conduct its first performance review of the CAP strategic plans.
The Commission will conduct an interim evaluation of the CAP 2023-2027.
The Commission will conduct a second performance review of the CAP strategic plans.
- Regulation (EU) 2021/2116 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 2 December 2021 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy and repealing Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013
- Regulation (EU) 2021/2115 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 2 December 2021 establishing rules on support for strategic plans to be drawn up by member states under the common agricultural policy (CAP Strategic Plans) and financed by the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and repealing Regulations (EU) No 1305/2013 and (EU) No 1307/2013
- Regulation (EU) 2021/2117 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 2 December 2021 amending Regulations (EU) No 1308/2013 establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products, (EU) No 1151/2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs, (EU) No 251/2014 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of aromatised wine products and (EU) No 228/2013 laying down specific measures for agriculture in the outermost regions of the Union
In a Nutshell
The European Climate Law (ECL) sets a Union-wide, legally binding obligation to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The EU Institutions and member states are bound to adopt the necessary measures to meet the target; the Law provides a solid foundation on which to anchor future EU climate policy.
The Climate Law addresses the necessary steps to reach the end goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Law sets a more ambitious target of at least 55% emissions reductions by 2030 compared to 1990s levels, up from the previous 40% target. The 2030 targets are one part. The Law also includes a process for setting EU climate targets for 2040, which are currently in the making. The Law is a central element in achieving the European Green Deal and was the starting point of a set of proposals by the EU Commission set out in the Fit-for-55 package.
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is explicitly and implicitly referred to throughout the text. It introduces a distinction between emission reductions and removals within the EU 2030 emissions reduction target, capping the contribution of land-based CDR through natural sinks based on the Land-Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation. Additionally, the ECL acknowledges the urge to enhance carbon sinks whether through natural or technological solutions. A commitment to achieving negative emissions after 2050 is also included in the Law.
What's on the Horizon?
By 30 September 2023, and every five years thereafter, in line with the Paris Agreement stocktake exercise, the European Commission will assess the collective and individual progress of Member States towards achieving the 2050 climate neutrality objective and assess progress on climate adaptation.
Looking ahead, since the EU climate law gives legal teeth to the principle of net negative emissions, the need to reflect this objective in parallel EU climate legislation such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) carbon pricing mechanism is starting to gain traction. The Commission is expected to produce a report by 2026 regarding the feasibility of integrating removals within the system.
Additionally, since the climate negativity target binds Member States on a collective basis, the distributional question of how to operationalize the effort sharing deriving from this target will also have to be addressed in future policy developments.
Separate targets for emissions reductions and removals
The climate law formally enshrines the objective to increase the EU’s interim 2030 emissions reduction target from 40% to at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.
When the European Commission first came up with this proposal to step up ambition, moving from 40% gross to 55% net emission reductions, it was criticised for creating a net target that did not differentiate between reductions and removals. Academic voices and campaigners responded by initiating a campaign calling for separate targets, which the European Parliament took on board as part of its own negotiating mandate. Campaigners indeed voiced the fear that an overreliance on carbon removal risked distracting from or delaying action on emissions reduction, leading to the so-called “moral hazard” or “mitigation deterrence” effect.
The recommendation to account separately for carbon sinks was finally mirrored in the ECL, as the 2030 target included a capped contribution of 225 million tonnes of carbon dioxide removal through natural sinks, linking to the pre-existing commitment made under the LULUCF Regulation. Since then, the LULUCF Regulation has been revised and the nature-based target was increased to 330 million tonnes by 2030, de facto increasing the ambition of the 2030 targets. However, the capped contribution of 225 million tonnes remains.
No definition of carbon removal nor hard-to-abate emissions
Despite formally acknowledging the need to balance emissions with removals, the ECL does not introduce a definition of what constitutes carbon dioxide removal. The Law mostly refers to removals as natural sinks, de facto looking at the CDR contribution mainly through the lenses of land use and forestry.
However, this gap in the definition could be expected to be addressed in the proposal for a carbon removal certification framework, which the ECL mentions in the context of enhancing carbon sinks and supporting carbon farming.
Finally, the Law acknowledges the role of “removals of greenhouse gases” as a necessary second step to avoiding emissions at source and compensating for residual emissions from “sectors where decarbonisation is the most challenging”, without further elaborating on what constitutes a hard-to-abate emission or sector. Hard to abate emissions should be explicitly defined.
Some acknowledgements of technology-based solutions
The role of more engineered forms of removals, including those enabled by carbon capture and storage technology, is not expanded upon in the Law. One reference is however made in the legislation to the “sinks” that will be needed to balance anthropogenic emissions including both “natural and technological solutions.”
The climate law also includes a recital on the need to promote investment certainty and to introduce policy incentives for technological innovations that can fast-track the transition to a climate-neutral economy, providing an indirect legal hook for the scale-up of CDR solutions.
Lastly, whilst the quantified contribution of natural sinks is specified in the ECL, no target is given for other forms of removal methods.
An aspirational, non-binding target for technological solutions was however subsequently proposed as part of the European Commission’s communication on sustainable carbon cycles, which calls for a 5 million tonnes objective by 2030, thereby giving a strong signal to investors and formally recognising the need to increase research and deployment for these types of solutions.
New Scientific Advisory Body
The law officially establishes the launch of an independent scientific body to provide unbiased advice on the EU’s climate neutrality pathway and encourages Member States to set up their own entities to do so.
Interestingly, the ECL specifically mandates the advisory body to provide scientific knowledge on climate modelling and monitoring but also on “promising research and innovation” which contribute to increasing removals, indirectly mandating the advisory body to assess the potential of more emerging types of carbon removal methods.
Right-sizing the EU carbon budget for the 2040 climate target
The climate law enshrines the objective for the European Commission to propose an intermediate 2040 climate target within six months of the first global stocktake exercise of the Paris Agreement. For transparency and accountability purposes, the law notes that the European Commission will in parallel publish an indicative greenhouse gas budget for the period spanning 2030-2050 defined as the total net greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as CO2 equivalent and providing separate information on emissions and removals) that are expected to be emitted without compromising the Paris Agreement. The law specifies that here too, the recommendations of the Advisory Board will be solicited and that the Commission will publish the underlying methodology used.
EU Parliament declares climate emergency and urges EU Member States to commit to net zero GHG emissions by 2050
European Commission presents its European Green Deal flagship plan to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050
European Parliament adopts its negotiating mandate, notably calling for a 60% emissions reduction target and a separate accounting of removals and emissions
Council adopts general approach endorsing the -55% net emission reduction target for 2030
The three EU institutions reach a political agreement
The EU Climate Law enters into force, formally enshrining the climate neutrality target into binding legislation
Deal reached on increasing the carbon sink capacity of the EU through land use and forestry sector
EU Commission to deliver its first report, and every five years thereafter, in line with the Paris stock taking exercise
EU Climate Law (ECL)
Regulation (EU) 2021/1119 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 June 2021 establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulations (EC) No 401/2009 and (EU) 2018/1999 (‘European Climate Law’)
In a Nutshell
The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) aims to increase the share of renewable energy sources (RES) within the European Union’s final energy consumption. It establishes a common framework for the development of renewable energy capacity in the European Union and sets a binding target for the share that renewable energy represents within the EU’s final energy consumption.
In its 2021 revision, the Commission proposed increasing the target minimum share of RES in the EU’s final energy consumption to 40% in 2030 (RED III), an increase of 8 percentage points compared to its 2018 recast (RED II), which had established a minimum RES share of 32% of final energy consumption in 2030. Since the 2021 proposal, the binding renewable target has been raised to a 42.5% RES share in 2030 as part of the RePower EU Package (RED IV). RePower EU follows the Russian invasion of Ukraine and an increasing need to reduce dependency on Russian gas.
The Directive is particularly relevant for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), as it regulates the use of biomass and biofuels for energy generation, affecting the feasibility of introducing BECCS in the EU, and its potential scale. RED is also highly relevant to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods that rely on a stable supply of renewable and low–emissions energy, such as direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS).
The RED also impacts biomass-based CDR methods beyond BECCS. Due to the high expected demand and relatively limited supply of eligible types of biomass, competition may arise between actors proposing different potential uses for biomass. Biomass use also affects carbon storage in biogenic carbon sinks. For example, forests can be a biogenic carbon sink, provide timber, and provide residual harvest biomass for bioenergy production.
What's on the Horizon?
- A tentative political agreement on RED IV was reached between the EU Parliament and the EU Council on 30 March 2023. This agreement was due to be formally approved on 17 May, but a last-minute disagreement over the role of low-carbon hydrogen produced using nuclear energy in the EU’s decarbonisation targets led to the process being postponed.
- On 19 June, the EU Council reached an agreement on RED IV. The European Parliament Committee responsible for the file approved the text on 28 June. A plenary vote in the European Parliament took place on 12 September, during which the EP voted in favor of the revision. Now, EU member states need to give the final green light before the law enters into force.
- The energy policy framework for the post-2030 period is under discussion.
Making sense of the Renewable Energy Directive
To help deliver on the EU’s increasing climate ambitions, including the EU-wide 55% emissions reduction target by 2030 and the target to achieve net neutrality by 2050, the targets set by the RED have been repeatedly increased. As a result, the RED has evolved from RED I to its latest version, RED IV. Starting from a target of 20% RES as a share of total final energy consumption by 2020 set in 2009, RED I was revised as part of the “Clean energy for all Europeans” package in 2018 to include a target of a 32% RES share by 2030, thereby becoming RED II.
In July 2021, as part of the “Fit-for-55” package, RED III was proposed and the target was raised to 40% by 2030. Following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Commission proposed a first amendment (RED IV) with a target of 45% as part of its “REPowerEU” plan. In November 2022, the Commission proposed a second amendment for a Council regulation to accelerate RES deployment.
In March 2023, the EU Parliament and the Council reached a tentative agreement to raise the target to a 42.5% RES share by 2030. Member states will need to increase their national contributions in their integrated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP), which are due to be updated in 2023 and 2024, to collectively achieve the target. Achieving the target would bring EU member states’ total renewable energy generation capacity to 1236 GW by 2030.
RES considered within the RED’s scope include wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass. The binding target is supported by differentiated targets for a variety of sectors, such as heating and cooling, industry, and transport. The provisional agreement under RePowerEU also aims to remove barriers to the scale-up of renewable energy generation by making permitting processes for renewable energy installations quicker and easier. To this end, member states will define regions (so-called ‘go-to areas’) with limited environmental risks and high renewable energy generation capability, in which the permitting procedure shall be simplified.
The RED and its impacts on biomass use
Biomass is considered a RES within the provisional agreement, provided that its use meets several sustainability criteria. These include requirements that woody biomass used in energy generation follows the cascading principle – ensuring that biomass of higher quality should serve purposes demanding higher-quality biomass first – and that forest biomass may not be harvested from areas with particular significance with regard to carbon stocks or biodiversity. Furthermore, no financial support shall be granted when energy facilities use stumps and roots for energy generation (as they are considered important, for example, to protect soil carbon stocks) or when they use high-quality biomass that should be reserved for other use cases under the cascading principle, such as industrial-grade roundwood, veneer logs, and saw logs.
The provisional agreement sets out a new binding combined target of 5.5% for advanced biofuels, generally derived from non-food-based feedstocks, and renewable fuels of non-biological origin, mostly renewable hydrogen and hydrogen-based synthetic fuels, in the share of renewable energy supplied to the transport sector. The increasing need for advanced biofuels that use biomass as a feedstock may conflict with the demand for the lower-quality biomass upon which several CDR methods rely, such as BECCS and biochar.
Where does BECCS fit in?
The recognition of biomass as a renewable energy source affects the feasibility and potential scale of BECCS. BECCS can both provide renewable energy and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The 2021 proposal states that member states should not support electricity production from installations producing only electricity, as opposed to, for example, installations producing both heat and power), unless these installations are located in regions included in the Just Transition Plan, or if the installations used CCS technologies to capture and store the associated (biogenic) CO2 emissions.
Currently, negative emissions stemming from BECCS cannot contribute towards targets set under any of the three main legislative pillars of EU climate action, namely the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), and the LULUCF Regulation.
The RED: Are sustainability criteria enough to ensure the sustainable use of biomass?
The role of biomass within the RED is important. While sustainability criteria exist to prevent the misuse of biomass for energy generation, the demand for biomass may increasingly exceed supply. Some communities might be adversely impacted, especially in terms of resource use and food security. It is therefore critical that future revisions of the RED take these concerns into consideration.
Energy for the future: renewable sources of energy, indicative EU target of 12% renewables by 2010.
Directive on electricity production from renewables: national indicative targets
Directive on biofuels and renewable fuels for transport: national targets for biofuels
RED I: EU target of 20% renewables by 2020 and national binding targets
RED II: 32% renewables target for 2030 – This is the piece of legislation that is currently in force
RED III: EU Green Deal: EC proposal to raise target for 2030 to 40%
Council and Parliament reach provisional agreement on the revision
A last-minute objection postponed the adoption of RED IV
The Council reached an agreement on RED IV
The EU Parliament voted to in favor of the revision
Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the promotion of energy from renewable sources, and repealing Council Directive (EU) 2015/652
In a Nutshell
The National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) outline the EU member states’ 2021-2030 strategy to meet the 2030 energy and climate targets. The Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action (EU) 2018/1999, adopted in 2018, requires member states to regularly submit NECPs and update them. It also sets the EU Commission review process of the plans.
Member states outline how they will address energy efficiency, renewables, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, interconnections, and research and innovation in their NECP. A common template is used to facilitate transborder collaboration and efficiency gains.
So far, the 2030 climate and energy targets aim for at least 55% of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, 32% of renewable energy within the total energy production mix and 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency. The Fit-for-55 package called for more ambitious targets, some of which are still under review, including a 42.5% share of renewable energy within the Renewable Energy Directive.
The current versions of the NECPs, submitted at the end of 2019, massively overlook the role of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in their ability to achieve their targets. None of the 27 plans include targets for CDR, nor do they take into consideration novel carbon removal methods. Even conventional CDR methods such as afforestation or soil carbon sequestration are not properly addressed in the majority of NECPs.
This is concerning. To reach the scale of removals needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050, CDR capacities must be scaled up now. Member states should seize the opportunity to include CDR in their NECPs. In parallel, the inclusion of CDR in the 2040 targets would set the course until 2050.
What's on the Horizon?
- As set by the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action, member states must have submitted an updated draft of their NECPs by 30 June 2023, and the final version by 30 June 2024 unless they can justify that the current plan remains valid.
- On 1 January 2029 and every ten years thereafter, member states will need to submit a new final NECP covering each ten-year period, and a draft one year prior.
- On 3 July, only eight countries submitted their draft updated NECPs: Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands. We will keep monitoring this space as member states submit their NECPs and a more detailed analysis will follow accordingly.
The Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action entered into force
Deadline for member states to submit their draft NECPs for the period 2021-2030
EU Commission communicated an overall assessment and country-specific recommendations
Deadline for member states to submit their final NECPs
Deadline for member states to submit draft updated versions of their NECPs
Deadline for member states to submit final updated versions of the NECPs
Deadline for member states to submit draft NECPs covering the period 2031-2040
Deadline for member states to submit final NECPs covering the period 2031-2040
In a Nutshell
The proposal for a Soil Monitoring Law introduces a monitoring framework for all soils across the European Union. The proposed directive establishes a definition of what constitutes healthy soil. The law aims to present the information necessary to monitor European soils’ health and provide incentives for sustainable soil management.
In the proposal, soil health is defined as ‘the physical, chemical and biological condition of the soil determining its capacity to function as a vital living system and to provide ecosystem services’. Healthy soils have the potential to draw significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. However, EU soils are losing their ability to retain carbon and are actually emitting CO2, exacerbating climate change. Peatland drainage and soil erosion linked to agriculture and human settlements are just some of the reasons behind this carbon loss and associated emissions. In turn, the declining quality of EU soils might impact future food production.
The proposal’s most important feature is the introduction of a harmonised methodology and rules for soil health monitoring across the EU. Although some room is left for member states to decide how to implement the directive, it establishes common Union-wide criteria to assess whether a soil body is ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. The framework would create a common database integrating data from EU-level, member state and private sources. Member states will be required to regularly and accurately measure soil health using the framework.
The law significantly lacks a legally binding objective to achieve soil health across EU territory by 2050. If monitoring shows that EU soils are unhealthy, there is no obligation for member states to restore soil health. Thus, this law does nothing to ensure that soil health is achieved.
What's on the Horizon?
The EU Commission published its legislative proposal on 5 July 2023.
The proposal will be subject to interinstitutional negotiations in European Parliament and Council.
A public feedback period on the European Commission’s proposal is open until 3 November 2023, which is likely to be extended.
A study to support the impact assessment of the Proposal is expected to be finalised in September 2023.
Context of the law
In 2021, the European Parliament requested that the Commission develop an EU-wide common legal framework for the protection and sustainable use of soil. The 2023 Framework proposal followed up on this request. Soil health also plays a key role in delivering existing EU strategies and targets, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the EU Soil Strategy for 2030 and the 8th Environment Action Programme.
Reaching the new climate objectives set under the European Green Deal, as well as ensuring a stable food supply, relies on healthy soils. In the proposal, the Commission reports that an estimated 61% to 73% of agricultural soils in the EU are affected by erosion, loss of organic carbon, nutrient exceedances, compaction or secondary salinisation, or a combination of these threats, which not only impacts soil carbon sequestration but also food production capacities. For example, crop yields can be reduced by 2.5-15% by soil compaction. It is estimated that around 75 billion tonnes of organic carbon are stored in EU soil. As a point of reference, the EU’s total CO2 emissions were about 4.5 billion tonnes in 2017.
What does it look like in practice?
The proposal for a directive applies to all soils in the territory of member states. Under the Framework, member states are required to delineate their territories in ‘soil districts’, which is a newly defined governable unit introduced in the directive. Some loosely defined parameters to determine soil districts are laid out in the proposal. A competent authority designated by each member state will be assigned for each soil district. Member states are then required to establish a monitoring framework based on a set of criteria laid out in the directive, ensuring comparability of measurement across soil districts and member states. Most importantly, the European Union now has a measurable definition of soil health. Using this framework, member states are required to accurately and regularly measure soil health. The Directive lays out methodologies to do so and an obligation to measure soils at least every five years.
Under this proposed directive, member states would also be required to set up a mechanism for voluntary soil health certification, viewed as a way to incentivise the uptake of sustainable soil management practices by land owners. As per the current proposal, this certification would be complementary to the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). This linkage is still unclear and needs to be further clarified by the Commission.
Room for improvement
The Commission’s plan to create a strong soil health monitoring framework is a positive move for Europe. It will help foster healthier soils, potentially leading to greater quantities of carbon being absorbed. Carbon Gap especially welcomes the establishment of measurable common thresholds for soil health across a wide range of variables, minimum criteria for determining sampling points, an EU-wide soil health assessment and reporting system, and a digital portal to make soil data publicly accessible as important steps towards boosting Europe’s soils through a harmonised framework.
However, it is important to recognise that monitoring soil health does not necessarily mean that soil health will be improved. The proposed directive would better serve its purpose if it included a legally-binding target for soil health by 2050 holding member states accountable for their stated goal. Another concern is that the proposed frequency of measurement and the timelines for reporting cycles is insufficient. Effectively, if the law enters into force as it stands today, the first soil measurements would only be required within four years. New soil measurements would then be required every five years, meaning that it would take close to a decade before a clear view is established of whether EU soils are recovering, protected or enhanced.
While the Commission’s desire to incentivise sustainable soil management principles is welcome, its proposed mechanism of soil health certification for land owners and managers raises concerns. The suggested link to the CRCF warrants scrutiny as soil health and soil carbon are not interchangeable, soil carbon fluxes are difficult to measure accurately at scale, and the durability of soil carbon storage is low. Therefore, soil health certificates should not be sold as carbon credits or used to contribute toward net-zero targets. Rather, these certificates might be supported by entities wanting to make contribution claims or do good for the environment and society.
Directive Of The European Parliament And Of The Council on Soil Monitoring and Resilience (Soil Monitoring Law)
Soil Monitoring Law
Key Institutional Stakeholders
European CommissionDG Environment (ENV) Unit D.1: Land Use & Management
European ParliamentCommittee Responsible: ENVI Rapporteur: Martin Hosjík (Renew, SK) Shadow Rapporteur: Beatrice Covassi (S&D, IT) Shadow Rapporteur: Ljudmila Novak (EPP, SI)
In a Nutshell
Nature Restoration Targets is a legislative proposal from the European Commission that would set legally binding targets for nature restoration in Europe. The aim is to mitigate biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change, and to boost human and animal health by complementing the EU’s existing framework for protecting ecosystems. If adopted, the regulation would be the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind.
By 2030, the targets would ensure restoration of at least 20% of degraded EU land and sea areas, and the remaining ones by 2050. The proposed legislation covers a broad range of ecosystems with specific targets, from forests and agricultural land to urban areas, rivers and marine habitats, with emphasis on restoring those with the highest potential for carbon removal and storage, and for prevention and reduction of natural disasters. Member States would be required to develop Nature Restoration Plans, to be assessed by the Commission, and to report on their progress toward meeting domestic targets.
Many aspects of the law would promote carbon removal. The draft law prioritises the restoration of damaged terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that have significant potential for carbon removal. This includes ecosystems such as peatlands, forests, grasslands, marshlands, heathland and scrub and coastal wetlands. Focusing on damaged and carbon-rich ecosystems is thought to be cost-efficient (as well as critical for climate change mitigation) because the monetised benefits from carbon storage could outweigh the cost of restoring ecosystems by a factor of six. It is still unclear how the Commission expects to monetise carbon removals through nature restoration, but it has proposed that Member States fund their restoration efforts through the EU, national and private sources.
Under the proposed regulation, agricultural ecosystems across Member States must achieve a trend of increasing organic carbon stocks in cropland and mineral soils. This trend must be evident at the national level, be measured at least every three years and is mandated to increase until satisfactory levels have been attained. Moreover, many ‘high-diversity landscape’ agricultural practices overlap with good soil management protocols for reducing soil loss, such as terracing and buffer strips. Reducing topsoil erosion is fundamental to soil carbon sequestration.
What's on the Horizon?
The draft Law faced is facing political opposition from the EPP and the Conservatives and was almost withdrawn.
The EU Council recently adopted its general approach and the EU Parliament needs to adopt its position. On 27 June, the ENVI Committee rejected the Commission’s proposal on the Nature Restoration Law.
The Parliament as a whole will need to take a position, probably during the July plenary. On 12 July, the Parliament rejected the EPP’s call to reject the law. It voted in favour of a common approach to the file, which had to be watered down to gather support.
Now, interinstitutional negotiations will start. The Spanish Presidency has signaled that the Nature Restoration Law will be one of its priorities.
Giving teeth to EU environmental rules
The proposed Nature Restoration Law sits at the intersection between European climate and biodiversity policies, demonstrating the interconnected nature of these crises. If passed, the Law would contribute toward the EU’s delivery of its 2050 climate neutrality target, especially if the range of ecosystems in scope remains as broad and numerous as proposed. Many ecosystems constitute natural carbon sinks; restoring them can help draw down more carbon from the atmosphere and the Law’s legally binding targets will prioritise the restoration of those that have the highest potential to capture and store carbon. According to the Commission, restoring degraded ecosystems such as forests through management and afforestation has the capability to remove approximately 500 Mt CO2e annually by 2050.
In general, this law would add rigor to the EU’s existing environmental law regime. To date, the efficacy of these schemes has suffered from lack of targets, deadlines and procedural clarity. The EU has, so far, failed to meet its voluntary goals (for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s voluntary target to restore at least 15% of its degraded ecosystems by 2020 was missed).
Another advantage of the law would be new data sources that will be gathered as part of the national Restoration Plans and reports, such as mapping any agricultural and forest areas that need restoration that would highlight areas of carbon depletion, which may help fill data gaps on terrestrial carbon flows.
Additionality and the CRCF
It is still unclear how the Nature Restoration Law would intersect with the EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). The Commission has proposed that carbon farming through restoration of peatlands and other ecosystems be eligible for certification under CRCF. However, the introduction of the Nature Restoration Law will have implications for the additionality rules in the CRCF, which state that carbon removal activities must exceed standard practices and legal requirements to be certified. By changing legalities and norms governing nature restoration, and by extension terrestrial and aquatic carbon-enhancing practices, the Nature Restoration Law might limit which carbon farming projects can be certified under the CRCF.
Status of the stakeholder debate
There is a strong case for increased ambition for the Nature Restoration Law. Parliament’s rapporteur, MEP César Luena, is advocating for raising the proposed target of restoring 20% of the EU’s land and seas by 2030 to 30% in line with the global decision adopted in December at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. Additionally, under the current proposal, the majority of the restoration action is postponed until after 2030; it takes time for the carbon benefits of nature restoration measures to materialise. Hence, policy-makers should bring the timeline forward to ensure these measures contribute to the EU’s net zero and biodiversity goals.
Questions remain as to how much flexibility Member States will have in their implementation of the law. Some are particularly concerned about the impact of this regulation on farmers and foresters and, by extension, European food security and sovereignty (although the perceived trade-off between ecological restoration and EU food security has been challenged). For example, farmers and foresters may be obligated to transition to more sustainable practices, which may result in additional costs. Several voices in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee argue that the proposed law should better integrate the interests of farmers by excluding agriculture from the scope, or ensuring nature restoration is economically attractive to farmers with new non-CAP financing.
There are similar concerns as to whether the new regulation adequately accounts for the socioeconomic role of forests. The proposed law aims to legally protect all remaining primary and old-growth forests. This stipulation is a particularly contentious issue for Nordic and Baltic countries with large forestry sectors. The European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) decries the lack of new financing or market-based incentives for forest owners to preserve their land under the new law.
Overall, policymakers should assess the existing EU funding available for nature restoration and what further financial support is needed while also establishing dialogue and coordination with landowners and farmers. For example, the ENVI Committee’s report could require the Commission to reflect on the creation of a dedicated nature restoration fund. Policymakers should also not overlook the potential for new green jobs to be created as a result of the regulation.
European Commission Biodiversity strategy for 2030 setting out the long-term plan to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems
European Commission adopts the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law
The EU Council agreed on a general approach on the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law.
The ENVI committee (the lead EU Parliament committee for this file) rejected the Commission’s proposal for the EU nature restoration law as amended by the ENVI Rapporteur of the file (44 pro, 44 against)
The EU Parliament adopted a common approach to the Law and rejected the EPP’s call to reject the Law.
- Inception impact assessment on protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets under EU biodiversity strategy, European Commission, 2020
- Biodiversity strategy for 2030, European Commission, 2020
- Regulation on nature restoration, European Parliament briefing, 2022
Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on nature restoration
Key Institutional Stakeholders
European CommissionDG Environment (ENV) Unit D.2: Biodiversity
European ParliamentCommitee responsible: ENVI Rapporteur: César Luena (S&D, ES) Shadow rapporteur: Christine Schneider (EPP, DE) Shadow rapporteur: María Soraya Rodrígues Ramos (Renew, ES) Shadow rapporteur: Jutta Paulus (Greens/EFA, DE) Shadow rapporteur: Alexandr Vondra (ECR, CZ) Shadow rapporteur: Mick Wallace (GUE/NGL, IE)
Council of the European UnionCouncil configuration: ENV
In a Nutshell
The LULUCF Regulation is designed to ensure that emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities are accurately accounted for in the EU’s climate targets. The LULUCF sector covers the use of soils, trees, plants, biomass and timber and is responsible for both emitting and absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. The Regulation’s objective is to progressively increase removals and reduce emissions in the sector.
Following its latest amendment, the Regulation aligns with the legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 and strengthen the sector’s role in climate action.
The amended Regulation sets out an overall EU-level objective of 310 Mt CO2e of net removals in the LULUCF sector by 2030. Member states are be responsible for caring for and expanding their carbon sinks to meet the new EU target. To that end, the Regulation introduces rules enhancing the quality of monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions and removals, using more accurate and precise data monitoring.
The amended Regulation maintains the “no debit rule” that emissions (debits) from LULUCF sectors should not exceed removals (credits) until 2025. Should emissions exceed removals, the member state is obliged to increase sink capacity through afforestation or reforestation, or by making use of flexibility mechanisms (e.g., trading emissions credits). In 2026, removals should start exceeding emissions. Each member state will be assigned a binding national target for 2030 and a commitment to achieve a sum of net GHG emissions and removals for the whole period of 2026-2029, the budget for which will be set in the future.
The amended Regulation keeps the possibility to trade removals between member states and use surplus annual emission allocations under the Effort Sharing Regulation to reach LULUCF targets. There is also a mechanism to account for natural disturbances affecting a member states’ ability to deliver on the national target (e.g., wildfires or pests), provided that the EU as a whole meets its 2030 target.
What's on the Horizon?
The European Parliament and the Council have adopted the amended directive, which has now entered into force:
- 14/03/2023: Formal adoption by the European Parliament
- 28/03/2023: Formal adoption by the Council of the European Union
- 21/04/2023: Publication in the Official Journal of the European Union
- 11/05/2023: Entry into force
Looking further ahead, the Commission will submit a report within six months of the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement (to be carried out in 2023), on including non-CO2 GHG emissions from agriculture in the scope of the Regulation and the setting of post-2030 targets for the LULUCF sector.
Within one year of the implementation of the proposed certification framework for carbon removals, the Commission will have to assess the potential inclusion of carbon storage in products in scope of the LULUCF Regulation.
A more ambitious regulation
The LULUCF Regulation was amended to include the EU’s revised 2030 climate target to reduce GHG emissions by 55% below 1990 levels, which acknowledged the need to enhance the EU’s carbon sink. The revision was proposed as part of the ‘Fit for 55 package’ (together with the EU emissions Trading System and the Effort Sharing Regulation).
The key objectives for the revision were:
- reversing the current trend of declining removals in the land sector and delivering, by 2030, 310 Mt CO2e removals from the LULUCF sector;
- a climate-neutral land sector by 2035, combining emissions from agriculture with net removals from LULUCF;
- simplification of reporting requirements for Member States.
The agreement tightens the criteria to assess whether the EU-wide target is being met and consequently if the flexibility mechanism can be used. Member states will be allowed to use the flexibility mechanism up to a fixed limit, provided, among other conditions, that they submit evidence to the Commission following a well-defined methodology.
To ensure delivery, the revised LULUCF includes stricter reporting requirements, improved transparency and a review by 2025. During the period 2026-2029, Member States can be penalised by an additional 8% on their national 2030 target, if the reporting shows insufficient progress towards their national targets.
…that risks not delivering
In 2020, the EU LULUCF sector removed 230 Mt CO2e from the atmosphere. However, carbon sinks have been declining in almost every Member State. Based on projections, current measures will not be sufficient to reverse this trend. By implementing the additional measures planned by Member States, the EU’s carbon sink would increase between 2021 and 2040, but by only by 3%. This would mean 209 Mt CO2e by 2030, missing the proposed target of 310 Mt CO2e. If the EU is to achieve the LULUCF goal, more ambitious removal measures are needed from Member States, along with further emissions reductions.
The Regulation is comprehensive in scope – it covers all land use, land use change, and forestry activities, ensuring that emissions and removals from these sectors are accurately accounted for in the EU’s overall emissions reduction target. Overall, however, the scope for emissions reductions is limited– LULUCF activities account for a relatively small share of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions (equal to 7% of the EU’s annual GHG emissions).
The proposed revision also extends the scope to cover emissions from biomass used in energy production and ensures these will be recorded and counted towards each Member State’s 2030 climate commitments. This is particularly relevant for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which extracts bioenergy from biomass, and captures and stores the carbon. As forest management is the main source of biomass for energy and wood production, the more robust accounting rules and governance for forest management will affect the availability and sustainability of the biomass feedstock for BECCS.
Entry into force of the original LULUCF Regulation
European Commission proposal for a revision of the LULUCF Regulation released as a part of the Fit for 55 package
Provisional political agreement on the LULUCF legislative proposal between co-legislators
Entry into force of the revised regulation
Commission to report on including non-CO2 GHG emissions from agriculture in the scope of the regulation and the setting of post-2030 targets for the land-use sector
Commission to report on the potential inclusion of carbon storage in products in scope of the LULUCF Regulation
Regulation (EU) 2023/839 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 April 2023 amending Regulation (EU) 2018/841 as regards the scope, simplifying the reporting and compliance rules, and setting out the targets of the Member States for 2030, and Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 as regards improvement in monitoring, reporting, tracking of progress and review (Text with EEA relevance)