In a Nutshell
The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is the EU’s landmark tool to prevent carbon leakage and support the EU’s increased climate ambitions. It works by putting a price on carbon emitted during the production of carbon-intensive goods entering the EU to incentivise cleaner industrial production in non-EU countries.
Carbon leakage refers to the process of shifted production and/or emissions to other jurisdictions with less stringent emission constraints. It is one of the key obstacles for the EU to reach its climate commitments. The CBAM was designed to specifically address this risk. Carbon leakage can occur when a domestic carbon price negatively impacts the competitiveness of an entity operating in this domestic context. This increased cost might result in the entity shifting its production to another country with a lower carbon price to reduce production costs. For example, a steel producer might consider relocating its production outside of the EU to avoid paying for the carbon it emits. Another possible instance of carbon leakage occurs when non-domestic producers that are not subject to the price of carbon enjoy significant competitive advantages compared to domestic producers, resulting in a shift of production abroad.
The sectors that will first be covered by the CBAM are energy-intensive industries, namely cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen. When fully phased in, the CBAM will capture approximately 50% of the emissions covered by the EU Emission Trading System (ETS).
The CBAM is based on the purchase of certificates by importers, which represent the embedded emissions in the imported goods. The price of the certificates will be calculated based on the weekly average auction price of EU-ETS allowances, equivalent to Euro per tonne of CO2 emitted.
The CBAM will in principle apply to the imports of goods from all non-EU countries. However, countries participating in the EU ETS and Switzerland are excluded from the mechanism.
Even though carbon removal has not been taken into account by the CBAM yet, the system provides opportunities to create incentives for CDR. There could be several ways to include CDR in the context of CBAM, including using CDR to directly reduce embedded emissions or to compensate for embedded emissions.
What's on the Horizon?
Transitional phase 1 October 2023 to end of 2025: Under the Commission’s proposal, importers will have to report emissions embedded in their goods subject to CBAM without paying a financial adjustment in a transitional phase, providing stakeholders with some time to prepare for the final system to be put in place.
Implementing acts are expected to be drafted and released throughout the transitional phase until 2026, though no clear timeline has yet been established. These include implementing acts on the calculation of default values for embedded indirect emissions and authorised declarant conditions and registries. A delegated act on certificates sale and repurchase is to be expected as well. Clarifications on the methodology for counting embedded carbon emissions, with separate methodologies for different sectors and goods, are also to be expected.
An ongoing public consultation is taking place in the United Kingdom on whether it should introduce an equivalent system to the EU CBAM or not.
While the CBAM does not include CDR explicitly yet, there are a strong rationale for including it and several different ways it could be included.
The CBAM is intended to mirror the conditions that European Economic Zone actors experience when they emit carbon and fall subject to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Assuming the EU-ETS includes permanent CDR within its scope to enable participants to reduce net emissions in 2030 at the earliest, a case can be made to integrate removals in the CBAM to make the two mechanisms work under the same rules. This would require clear rules on MRV mechanisms, with removals limited to hard-to-abate sectors. The CBAM could integrate CDR within its scope first, as it gradually phases in starting 2026.
CDR could be included either directly or indirectly within the CBAM:
- By authorising importers to buy durable removals to compensate a share of the embedded emissions and reduce their CBAM obligations. A clear mention of this measure could be made in Article 7. This addition could be done in accordance with the forthcoming CRCF by clearly specifying that only permanent removals are allowed.
- By recognising CDR as a way to reduce a product’s overall embedded emissions, therefore reducing the product’s net-direct emissions. For example, a steel-making factory in a non-European country could buy durable CDR credits in its country of operations to reduce the product’s emissions.
The revenues generated by the CBAM will go to the general EU budget. Since the CBAM covers many hard-to-abate sectors that will likely continue generating GHG emissions in the long term, it could be argued that some of the revenues generated by the CBAM could be used to incentivise/support CDR development/deployment. A share of the revenues could be used to finance the Innovation Fund.
Including CDR within the CBAM does come with some risks. Among others, it could enable greenwashing and disincentivise decarbonisation along value chains. While the CBAM itself might not contain the tools needed to tackle these two risks, other EU legislations could help address these risks. Greenwashing will likely be prevented by the Green Claims Directive, whilst the EU-ETS incentivises European companies to reduce their emissions.
Whether CDR could be used to circumvent the CBAM or not should be clearly defined, and if yes, clear eligibility criteria should be created and agreed upon. Effectively, only high-quality removals should qualify, and priority should be given to reducing embedded emissions in the first place. EU policymakers still need to discuss and agree on the methodologies related to embedded emissions accounting, which could provide some opportunities to promote a stringent and robust approach to CDR under the CBAM. For example, indirect emissions could be reduced or even negated if BECCS is allowed in the methodology.
CBAM in perspective
The CBAM is not only considered an essential tool to achieve the EU’s climate objectives but also serves to ensure the EU’s industrial competitiveness with the rest of the world. However, while it puts European production on a level-playing field with imported products, European exports are currently still at a disadvantage. How this issue is tackled remains to be seen, as carbon leakage could still occur if a company shifts its share of European production going to the rest of the world outside of the EU.
Other geographies are also engaging with similar ideas. The United Kingdom is currently going through a public consultation as to whether it should introduce a CBAM. Interestingly, one of the questions asked pertains to whether carbon credits should be used to offset emissions. The United States is currently reviewing the “Clean Competition Act”, which would create a CBAM for the USA. California has already put in place a system similar to the CBAM regarding electricity imports in some situations, and Canada is considering adopting a border carbon adjustment mechanism.
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism adopted by the European Commission.
Adoption by the EU Parliament and the Council.
Publication in the Official Journal of the EU.
The EU Commission adopted detailed reporting rules for the CBAM’s transitional phase.
CBAM will enter into force in its transitional phase (importers will only need to report until 2026, after which they will be required to pay financial adjustments.
First reporting period for traders ends.
Report reviewing how the CBAM is working and whether to extend its scope to more products and services to be published.
The permanent CBAM system will gradually enter into force while the free ETS allowances for CBAM sectors will be gradually phased out.
All free ETS allowances will be phased out, thus CBAM will apply to all emissions in the sectors covered.
Regulation (EU) 2023/956 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 May 2023 establishing a carbon border adjustment mechanism (Text with EEA relevance)
Key Institutional Stakeholders
European CommissionDirectorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD)
European ParliamentCommittee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Rapporteur: Mohammed Chahim (S&D, NL) Shadow Rapporteur: Adam Jarubas (EPP, PL) Shadow Rapporteur: Nicolae Ştefănuță (Greens/EFA, RO) Shadow Rapporteur: Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA, FR) Shadow Rapporteur: Catherine Griset (ID, FR) Shadow Rapporteur: Hermann Tertsch (ECR, ES) Shadow Rapporteur: Malin Björk (GUE/NGL, SE)
Council of the European UnionECOFIN
In a Nutshell
The Directive for the substantiation of explicit environmental claims (Green Claims Directive) is a legislative proposal that aims to address and reduce greenwashing in consumer-facing commercial practices. It establishes minimum requirements on the substantiation and communication of voluntary environmental claims and labels that are not otherwise banned under the Directive on Empowering Consumers.
To make green claims (including climate-related claims) about the environmental footprint of their products, services, and operations, companies will need to comprehensively demonstrate environmental impact and performance by submitting recognised scientific evidence and the latest technical knowledge. The Directive establishes specific requirements for distinguishing claims on environmental performance from common practice, legal obligations, and from other traders or products.
Environmental claims and labelling schemes will be verified by independent accredited bodies before being put on the market. Member states will nominate a competent national authority to supervise this process, monitor and verify the claims and substantiations on a regular basis. This monitoring will help the Commission to evaluate where more specific requirements are needed and to implement delegated acts accordingly.
Climate-related claims such as net zero or carbon neutrality claims based on offsetting or carbon removal fall under the remit of this Directive. To substantiate such claims companies must report offsetting and emissions data separately, specify whether offsetting relates to emissions reductions or carbon removals, and explain accurately the accounting methodology applied. Once approved and when communicating to consumers, climate-related claims must be accompanied by additional information detailing the extent of reliance on offsetting and whether it is based on emissions reductions or removals.
What's on the Horizon?
The Green Claims proposal by the European Commission will now enter ordinary legislative procedure with the goal of reaching a formal adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
2023-2024: The European Parliament and the Council will develop their positions separately.
- The Council adopted its negotiating mandate regarding the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition on 3 May. The mandate outlines the Council’s position on this Directive which would lay the foundation for the Green Claims Directive.
- The European Parliament on 11 May adopted its position which sets stricter conditions than the Commission proposal and adds a definition of carbon offsetting.
- Negotiations between the Parliament and member states to find a middle ground are expected to start shortly. Complementing the Directive on Empowering Consumers, the Green Claims Directive will provide further guidance on the conditions to make substantiated environmental claims.
2024: Following trilogues between EU institutions, the Directive is expected to pass into EU law.
The Green Claims Directive complements the Empowering Consumers Directive published by the European Commission on 30 March 2022 within the EU Together, they aim to improve the circularity of the EU’s economy and achieve climate neutrality. They respectively set requirements to substantiate environmental claims made to consumers and and other commercial practices.
Apart from the French ministerial decree n°2022-538, the Green Claims Directive is a first of its kind in the specificity with which it regulates environmental claims and addresses climate-neutrality claims. The French decree regulates advertising claims based on emission compensation projects. It has different requirements surrounding emissions reporting, compensation data, and net zero plans.
The Green Claims Directive proposal addresses the issue of greenwashing, increasingly prevalent in recent years. It seeks to standardise environmental claims and labels to improve transparency and credibility for consumers. The proposal aims to use delegated and implementing acts in the future to address substantiation methodologies for specific product groups and evolving commercial practices.
The preamble of the proposal states that climate-related claims are prone to being unclear and misleading, as they are often based on offsetting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through carbon credits of low environmental integrity and credibility, generated outside the company’s value chain and calculated based on methodologies that vary widely in transparency, accuracy, and consistency. Offsetting can also deter traders from reducing emissions in their own operations and value chains.
However, credible net zero claims have the potential to incentivise and drive the development of safe, just and sustainable carbon removals to transition towards real climate neutrality. Claims based on offsetting must be regulated through a robust and science-based system to prevent greenwashing.
Room for improvement
Unfortunately, the Green Claims Directive as it currently stands does not establish the necessary measures to do so:
- The Directive does not align with scientific consensus as it allows offsetting through emissions reductions and avoidance to substantiate carbon neutrality claims. The IPCC’s definition of net zero is clear: balancing emissions with physical removals. Accordingly, offsetting projects that avoid emissions, but do not physically remove and store carbon, must be barred from use in substantiating claims about net climate impacts.
- The proposal rightly requires companies to report GHG emissions separately from offsetting data, to disclose the share of their total emissions that are addressed through offsetting and whether these come from emission reductions or removals. This isn’t enough to monitor whether the claimed climate impacts are real There is a need for more extensive disclosure on the types of carbon credits companies are purchasing (avoidance, reduction, removals), which emissions they are claiming compensation for, and the methodologies used to ensure integrity and correct accounting.
- The proposal allows all types of offsetting without any clear criteria for which emissions they can compensate for, nor which climate claims they can substantiate. However, not all carbon storage is equal in terms of capacity, duration or reversal risk. This means that long-lived fossil fuel emissions otherwise impossible to abate can only be balanced by removals with high-durability storage in the geosphere where the carbon came from. Lower-durability removal and storage of carbon into the biosphere must be accelerated for its own sake, to halt and reverse the loss of ecosystems and natural carbon stocks but cannot be eligible to compensate for fossil fuel emissions. Failing to enshrine this non-fungibility principle in EU law would allow companies to continue offsetting their long-lived emissions through shorter-term carbon storage with higher risks of reversal.
- Although the Directive encourages companies to use offsetting only for residual emissions, it provides no robust definition for what constitutes these residual or ‘hard-to-abate’ emissions. Without a sector-specific and measurable definition, companies can weaken emission cutting efforts by manipulating the boundary between ‘emissions that must be reduced’ and ‘emissions that physical removals can offset’. The EU will need to establish a transparent process for classifying emissions as difficult-to-decarbonise.
- The proposal excludes from its scope environmental claims and labels substantiated by rules in the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). However, the proposal for the CRCF has no rules for claim substantiation. Instead, the Green Claims Directive could establish guardrails for legitimate net zero claims, which could be substantiated through the purchase of high-quality carbon removal credits certified under the CRCF.
The EU Circular Economy Action Plan sets out the plan to support the EU’s transition to a circular economy, including by protecting consumers
Impact assessment and public consultation on substantiating green claims
European Parliament resolution ‘Towards a more sustainable single market for business and consumers’
European Commission proposal for a Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition
European Commission proposal for Green Claims Directive
European Parliament adopts its position on the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition
Deadline to provide feedback to the Commission on the Green Claims legislative proposal
- The EU Circular Economy Action Plan, European Commission
- Annual ‘sweep’: Screening of websites for ‘greenwashing’, European Commission
- Impact Assessment Report on Empowering Consumers, European Commission
- Recommendation on the use of the Environmental Footprint method, European Commission
- Strengthening climate-related claims: Carbon Gap response to the Green Claims proposal
- Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor 2022, NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch
- Greenwashing Factsheet, BEUC
- Sustainable consumption briefing, EPRS
Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (Green Claims Directive)