In a Nutshell

The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) establishes an EU-wide liability framework for environmental damages.  

It places obligations on operators that undertake certain industrial and agricultural activities, as well as those that are at fault for damage or have been negligent, making them liable for preventing and remedying any environmental damage caused by their activities. The Directive enshrines the ‘polluter pays’ principle in an effort to deter the occurrence of damage. It works in concert with other laws including the Wild Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, Water Framework Directive, Marine Strategy Framework, Industrial Emissions Directive, and CCS Directive.

Under the ELD, obligated operators must undertake preventive action where there is an imminent threat of environmental damage and remedial action where damage has already occurred, as well as bear the costs of such action.

The Directive is concerned with damage to protected species and natural habitats (which are those outlined in the Wild Birds Directive and Habitats Directive), to water and land, as well as with adverse changes in natural resources or impairment of a natural service.  

The Directive is relevant to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) as it sets obligations on operators of geological CO2 storage sites. These obligations are operationalised through the CCS Directive, which amends the scope of the ELD to cover the operation of CO2 storage sites. Operators are obliged to prevent the occurrence of, and take remedial action to address, environmental damage associated with the operation of such sites. This liability applies during the operational phase, but also during the closure and post-closure period. 

What's on the Horizon?

Under Article 18(2) of the ELD, the Commission must collect information from member states about their experience in applying the Directive, and in turn, undertake an evaluation that must be published before 30 April, 2023 and every five years subsequently. The evaluation is expected to consider the weaknesses in the ELD’s liability regime, as highlighted by the Parliament’s 2021 resolution, and may lead to revision of the rules for operators.

Deep Dive

How does the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) work? 

The ELD establishes two categories of operator, subject to different liabilities: 

  • Strict liability: Occupational activities considered to be dangerous are outlined in Annex III of the Directive, as regulated under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive. These operators face ’strict liability’, meaning a causal link does not need to be proven to make them liable for damage. In 2009, the entry into force of the CCS Directive amended the list in Annex III to include operators of geological CO2 storage sites.
  • Fault-based liability: Operators of activities not listed in Annex III must undertake measures when it can be proven that they are at fault.

In terms of the measures to be used by operators, Annex II of the Directive outlines a framework for remedying environmental damage, including primary, complementary, and compensatory remediation. Whilst primary remediation measures seek to return resources towards their baseline condition, complementary remediation seeks to provide the same level of resources elsewhere. Compensatory remediation addresses interim losses, and is undertaken during recovery, to fill the gap before primary and complementary measures have taken full effect.  

Regulating damages from CO2 storage

In the context of the CDR value chain, the Directive works in concert with the CCS Directive and ETS Directive to regulate damages related to CO2 leakage from storage sites, which could include BECCS and DACCS activities. While liability for environmental damage (i.e. damage to protected species and natural habitats) is regulated under the ELD, damage to the climate is regulated through the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), whereby operators must surrender ETS allowances to address any leakage. Meanwhile, the CCS Directive, introduced in 2009, amended the Environmental Liability Directive to include operators of CO2 storage sites under Annex III.  

The CCS Directive outlines the obligations of storage site operators and competent authorities. These are outlined below.  

During operation:  
  • Where CO2 leakage has occurred, operators have an obligation to undertake ’corrective measures’.
  • Operators have a legal obligation to report leakages or irregularities, under the conditions of the storage permit as well as under the ETS Directive.
  • The CCS Directive does not outline what these ’corrective measures’ may be specifically, or how they differ from the ‘remedial measures’ of the ELD. It may be interpreted that, while corrective measures are measures to rectify direct and immediate harm, remedial measures under the ELD may refer to the wider environmental damage associated with leakage.
  • In addition to the corrective, preventive and remedial measures taken, ETS allowances must be surrendered by the operator per the ETS Directive. 
  • Where an operator’s storage permit is withdrawn, for example due to permit expiry or permit conditions not being met, the competent authority temporarily takes on the operator’s legal obligations such as those under the ELD but can recover any associated costs from the previous
During closure and post-closure:  
  • After a storage site has been closed, operators continue to be liable for the ‘preventive and remedial’ actions under the ELD (alongside their monitoring, reporting, and corrective measures obligations under the CCS Directive).  
  • After certain conditions are met to adequately close the site, the legal obligations and liabilities of the operator can be transferred to the competent authority. These conditions include a need for clear evidence that the CO2 is permanently contained and that the site has been sealed, and a minimum period of time (no less than 20 years) has elapsed.

Both the Environmental Liability Directive and CCS Directive provide that competent authorities can recover costs from the operator, where they have undertaken remedial or corrective measures.  

Scope of the ELD and applicability to CDR 

In the context of CDR, the Environmental Liability Directive and CCS Directive work together to manage the risk of environmental damage associated with CO2 storage operations, such as those in the BECCS and DACCS value chain. The scope of the ELD includes damage relating to: 

  • Protected species and natural habitats, defined under EU conservation legislation broadly as naturally occurring wild species in the European territory and their habitats;
  • Waters, defined under the Water Framework Directive as “’inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater’;
  • Land, not explicitly defined in the Directive.

Meanwhile the scope of CCS Directive includes geological storage in: 

  • Member state territories, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and continental shelves under the UNCLOS definition.

Thus, the scope of the ELD is such that it applies strict liability to operators of geological storage activities in member state territories, EEZs, and continental shelves where damage to protected species and natural habitats, land, or water occurs.  

The ELD has been criticised for introducing ‘potentially uninsurable liabilities which dis-incentivise private sector investment in CCS technology […] in contrast with legislation in competing states including the United States, Norway, Canada and Australia’.  

 Due to its limited scope, the ELD does not directly contribute to more durable and secure storage of CO2. Instead, CO2 storage is overseen primarily through the CCS and ETS Directives. Thus, while it plays an important role as a deterrent for environmental damage, especially regarding the liability of storage site operators, the ELD cannot specifically penalise CO2 reversal events and their repercussions.  

Timeline

April 2004
23 April, 2009
March 2021
20 May, 2021
22 November, 2022
Upcoming
April 2004

Environmental Liability Directive signed into law

23 April, 2009

CCS Directive signed into law, amending the Environmental Liability Directive to include operators of CO2 storage sites. Revision of the ETS Directive to include carbon capture and storage, linking the ETS with the CCS Directive

March 2021

Publication of Commission Notice Guidelines clarifying the scope of ‘environmental damage’ in the Directive

20 May, 2021

Adoption of Parliament resolution highlighting limitations of the Environmental Liability Directive and calling for revision  

22 November, 2022

Study workshops on the 2023 Evaluation of the Environmental Liability Directive

Upcoming

Report on the Evaluation of the Environmental Liability Directive 

Official Document

Unofficial Title

Environmental Liability Directive 

Year

2004

Status

In a Nutshell

Horizon Europe is the European Union’s key funding programme for research and innovation. It follows and builds upon Horizon 2020. Totalling a budget of €95.5 billion for the period spanning from 2021 to 2027, it is a key instrument in tackling climate change, helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and incentivising the competitiveness and growth of the EU.  

Beyond EU members, the programme is a strong strategic tool for international cooperation in research and innovation. It opens the window for researchers across the world to team up with the EU through different forms of cooperation, including the association of three non-EU countries. 18 countries have association agreements, including New Zealand and the UK as the newest addition with reached political agreements (still pending formal adoption).

Substantive and welltargeted research and innovation support is key to fostering the maturation of nascent removal methods and to underpinning the progression towards the scale-up needed to reach climate neutrality goals in the EU. Carbon removal projects have received funding from Horizon Europe, especially within Pillar II (see Deep Dive section below). The support has been predominantly indirect and provided through calls with potential spillovers into removals, with a lower share of funding support for CDR directly. Broadening the understanding of removal methods and providing more targeted and sufficient support that strengthens the diverse family of removal methods will form a crucial part of Horizon’s approach to CDR in forthcoming work programmes.  

What's on the Horizon?

  • More countries are likely to finalise association agreements with Horizon Europe in the future. Negotiations with the Republic of Korea, and Japan are at various stages of advancement. The list of associated countries can be found here.
  • Building on the public consultation launched back in November 2022, the Commission will publish the Horizon Europe interim evaluation and consultation to inform the Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2025-2027.  
  • In parallel, the expert group formed by the Commission’s latest call in May 2023 will meet between Q4 2023 – Q4 2024 and is expected to provide input on the programme’s evaluation. They will subsequently publish a report on how to amplify the impact of EU research and innovation programs and build on the conclusions of Horizon 2020. 
  • Further details on calls that are still open or yet-to-be-opened within the work programme 2023-2024 should be expected, as well as information on specific projects taken forward under each call. The work programmes for the following period should also be forthcoming.  

Deep Dive

A look at the various funding programmes of Horizon Europe

The program consists of four main pillars, each having dedicated funding and established working programmes that guide priorities for research and funding support:  

A table showing the main programs and total budgets for individual pillars of Horizon Europe
Adapted from Horizon Europe: Investing to shape our future (2021)

  • Pillar I – Excellent Science: aimed at strengthening the excellence and competitiveness of the EU’s scientific base. Three initiatives take the work forward:  
    • European Research Council: provides funding to researchers and their teams working on frontier science topics, with an emphasis on early-stage researchers.  
    • Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: focuses on enhancing the knowledge and skills of researchers through mobility and training.  
    • Research infrastructures: ensures world-class research infrastructure in Europe that is integrated, interconnected, and available to the top researchers in Europe and across the world.  
  • Pilar II – Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness: centred around 6 clusters that tackle key global challenges underpinning EU policies and the Sustainable Development Goals, with a total of €53.5 billion. The launch of “Missions”- specified in the main work programme – is also part of the strategic planning process. Each cluster publishes a number of projects and calls within the main work programme for the relevant year, following priorities in R&I for the EU. Horizon Europe sets out its own Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, and projects are set to support the path towards different stages of maturity through a diverse range of actions including Research & Innovation Actions (RIA), Innovation Actions (IA) and Coordination and Support Actions (CSA).  
  • Pilar III – Innovative Europe:  
    • European Innovation Council (EIC): promotes breakthroughs, deep tech and disruptive innovation with scale-up potential at the global level through all stages of innovation.  It has two operating modes, an “Open” fund, holding no thematic preferences, and a “Challenge” fund, with specific thematic areas. Different technology readiness levels (TRL) are covered throughout its programmes:  A table of the total funding for programs in pillar three of Horizon Europe
    • European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE): supports the creation of better-connected innovation ecosystems across Europe, at both national and regional levels.  
    • European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT): brings together business, education and research organisations. 
  • Widening Participation & Strengthening the European Research Area (ERA): composed of two initiatives:

A look at carbon removal in Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe’s work programmes benefit a wide range of topics and technologies, especially in the six clusters of Pillar II. A close look at these programmes shows Horizon Europe has committed funding to CDRrelated topics (directly and indirectly, including calls with a high potential for spillovers), with the majority being clustered in three areas ( 8 Climate, Energy and Mobility; 9 Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment; and 12 Missions) in both the 2021-2022 and 2023-2024 work programmes.  

A table showing the various budgets available for CDR both directly and indirectly in Horizon Europe

The number of calls indirectly related to carbon removals found in both periods, – ranging from CCS and CO2 infrastructure projects to digital solutions and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) – is higher than those with a direct link to CDR, such as blue carbon, carbon sequestration and BECCS projects.  For context, the funding allocated directly to CDR projects amounted to about 1.1% of the total budget for 2021-2022 and 0.9% of the 2023-2024 total budget. Direct and indirect funding for CDR reached 2.6% of the total 2023-2024 budget, instead of the 1.78% for 2021-2022.  

Research & Innovation actions (RIA) are dominant for the first period, while both RIA and Innovation Actions (IA) lead within the latest work programme, although RIA are slightly more present (65.73% of all projects) in direct CDR funding. RIA projects have 100% of costs covered by the EU and are directed to new knowledge and exploration of technologies. IA projects are covered until 70% of costs and focus more on prototyping, testing, piloting, and large-scale product validation, and marker replication.  

Knowledge and targeted funding

A number of projects in Horizon Europe can provide simultaneous benefits to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), and Carbon Removal (CDR). While there are sometimes overlaps between these families of methods – for example, shared CO2 transport and storage infrastructure – CDR is a much broader field and a set of methods on its own. The main work programme for 2023-2024, especially in Cluster 6, features more explicit mentions of carbon removals in the expected outcomes or scopes of the topics. However, the calls do not solely focus on CDR in most cases and are more likely to produce spillover effects that benefit CDR, such as providing CO2 transport infrastructure.  

It is a positive step that the Commission has progressively included mentions of CDR within Horizon’s work programmes. To ensure that Horizon Europe delivers the appropriate support for CDR solutions going forward, a more sophisticated approach must be introduced that differentiates between CCUS and CDR methods, providing dedicated funding for different types of CDR as part of a portfolio approach. 

Means in line with targets

There is substantial support for different types of removals given CDR’s status as a nascent field. Despite this support, the amount currently allocated to research into carbon removals is not nearly enough to meet the needs for accelerated development and deployment of CDR in light of the EU climate goals and the ambition for the EU to take the lead in this space globally. To deliver on these goals, the EU must commit to a significantly expanded budget for carbon removal, in line with the goals set out for the Green Deal, such as 310 MtCO2e of removals from the LULUCF sector, 55% emissions reductions by 2030, and climate neutrality by 2050.  

Diverse and precise support

Horizon Europe strategic plans guide the direction of the investments in research and innovation. Ahead of the next iteration, the Strategic Plan 2025-2027 analysis looks at changes in EU policy and how the global context has changed since the first Plan (2021-2024), to determine if adjustments in terms of priority, directions and actions need to be made for this period. The analysis states that significant research is needed to bring down the cost of nature-based and industrial removals and further identifies areas where the current efforts need to be reinforced, for example:  

  1. Sustainable economic models that incorporate ways to measure and incentivise the co-benefits of carbon removal; 
  2. Addressing challenges in soil, water, nutrient and biodiversity through e.g, carbon removal; 
  3. The removal potential of bio-based economies and bio-based value chains; 

Beyond these suggestions, directing calls for projects based on a diverse portfolio of CDR methods will be necessary to help the industry bridge the research and innovation gap and ensure the maturity of all removal technologies. This approach requires that Horizon Europe ensure there are sufficient calls for all levels of maturity (TRL levels) and types of actions (Research & Innovation, Innovation and Coordination & Support Actions), since carbon removal requires both early-stage research capacity and support for deployment. 

Timeline

7 June 2018
April 2019
11 December 2020
28 April 2021
15 May - 7 June 2023
Q2 2023
December 2023
Q4 2023
Q4 2023 - Q4 2024
Q4 2024
28 April 2021

Regulation (EU) 2021/695 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon Europe

Q2 2023

Publication of factual summary reports from the public consultation

December 2023

Horizon 2020 ex-post evaluation report (staff working document)

Q4 2023 - Q4 2024

High Level Expert Group work

Q4 2024

High Level Expert Group Report publication

Further reading

A new horizon for Europe – Impact Assessment for Horizon Europe 2021-2027  

Horizon Europe budget breakdown  

Evidence Framework on monitoring and evaluation of Horizon Europe – focusing on the measurement of impact for Horizon, including the introduction of Key Impact Pathways.  

Funding and Tenders Portal 

Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2021-2024 

Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2025-2027 Analysis   

Horizon Work Programmes  

Countries

Since 1 August 2022, the following countries have association agreements in place: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Faroe Islands, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine.  

Status

Policy Type

Unofficial Title

Horizon Europe

Year

2021

Official Document

Last Updated

31/07/2023

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. 

Deep Dive

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. 

Open elements 

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.

 

Meeting number  Meeting dates  Deadline for registering as an observer  Deadline for submitting public comments on the meeting agenda 
SB 006  10-13 July 2023  19 June  3 July 
SB 007  11-14 September 2023  21 August  4 September 
SB 008  10 October to 2 November 2023  9 October  23 October 

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. 

 

Timeline

12 December 2015
4 November 2016
November 2021
November 2022
19 November 2022 - 15 March 2023
7-10 March 2023
16 March - 11 April 2023
18-25 May 2023
31 May - 3 June 2023
5-15 June 2023
5-19 June 2023
23 June 2023
10-13 July 2023
11-14 September 2023
Until 19 September 2023
30 October - 2 November 2023
Before SBSTA29/COP28
18 November 2023
30 November - 12 December 2023
12 December 2015

The Paris Agreement is adopted

4 November 2016

The Paris Agreement enters into force 

November 2021

CMA3/COP26 Glasgow – Adoption of the rules, modalities and procedures for Article 6.4 mechanism 

November 2022

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 

19 November 2022 - 15 March 2023

Request for submissions by Parties and admitted observer organisations to submit their views on activities involving removals via the submission portal

23 June 2023

Article 6.4 Supervisory Body stakeholder webinar

Until 19 September 2023

Public consultation on the three SBSTA working areas on Article 6.4 (inclusion of emission avoidance and conservation enhancement, registries, authorisation of credits) 

Before SBSTA29/COP28

Technical expert dialogue on the three SBSTA working areas on Article 6.4 (inclusion of emission avoidance and conservation enhancement, registries, authorisation of credits) 

18 November 2023

The SB has approved the long-awaited recommendations on activities involving carbon dioxide removal and Article 6.4 mechanism methodologies.

30 November - 12 December 2023

CMA5/COP28 in Dubai.The Article 6.4 Supervisory Body’s recommendations on removals and methodologies have been sent for approval to CMA5. 

Unofficial Title

Article 6.4

Year

2015

Last Updated

23/06/2023

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 the European Parliament and Council. 

A public feedback period on the European Commission’s proposal was open until 27 November 2023. 

The ENVI Committee adopted its report on 11 March 2024. The EU Parliament plenary agreed on its negotiating position on 10 April 2024, which waters down the Commission’s proposal.

The Council adopted its general approach on 17 June 2024.

Interinstitutional negotiations are expected to start in late 2024.

Deep Dive

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.

Timeline

17 November 2021
24 October 2022
5 July 2023
24 October 2023
3 November 2023
13 November 2023
27 November 2023
18 December 2023
13 February 2024
11 March 2024
10 April 2024
17 June 2024
17 November 2021

EU soil strategy for 2030

24 October 2022

Public consultation on new soil health legislation

5 July 2023

The EU Commission published its legislative proposal

24 October 2023

The ENVI Comittee published its draft report on the file

3 November 2023

Public feedback period deadline on the European Commission’s proposal 

13 November 2023

The AGRI Committee (committee for opinion) published its draft opinion

27 November 2023

Deadline to submit amendments to ENVI Committee draft report

18 December 2023

First policy debate on the file for the European Council

13 February 2024

AGRI Committee adopted its opinion report

11 March 2024

ENVI Committee adopted its report on the file

10 April 2024

EU Parliament plenary adopted its report

17 June 2024

Year

2023

Official Document

Unofficial Title

Soil Monitoring Law

Last Updated

22/08/2023

In a Nutshell

On 19 February 2024, the European Commission reached a provisional political agreement on the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF), a voluntary regulatory framework for the certification of permanent carbon removals, carbon farming and carbon storage in products. The Framework has been developed to  facilitate and speed up the deployment of  permanent carbon removal, carbon farming and carbon storage in products activities, as a complement to sustained emission reductions, fight greenwashing and harmonise carbon removal market conditions.

The provisional agreement distinguishes four types of certified activities: (1) carbon farming (which includes (a) temporary carbon storage activities and (b) soil emission reduction activities), (2) temporary carbon storage in long-lasting products, and (3) permanent carbon removal. In order to ensure the quality of carbon removals certified under the framework, removals need to meet several quality criteria (so-called “QU.A.L.ITY” criteria), covering the aspects of quantification, additionality, long-term storage, and sustainability.

Under the framework, the European Commission, assisted by an Expert Group, will develop methodologies for the certification of a range of carbon removal methods and recognise certification schemes. The certification schemes will be responsible for setting up and maintaining interoperable public registries to track and control the carbon removal units certified under the Framework. Within four years, these will be replaced by a common, Union-wide registry. Meanwhile, certification bodies, supervised by member states, will carry out certification audits and the issuing of certificates.

The provisional agreement has made important strides compared with the Commission’s first proposal, namely by aligning the definition of carbon removal with that of the IPCC; clarifying the distinction between carbon removal and emissions reductions; and defining certified activities (e.g., permanent carbon removal, carbon storage in long-lasting products) in a more inclusive and future-proof way. Other areas of progress include improved liability requirements in the event of reversal, and improved transparency and accountability through a comprehensive Union-wide registry requiring disclosure of essential information (e.g., expected duration of carbon storage, quantity and status of certified units, etc.). However, the agreed text provides only limited guardrails for how the carbon removal units generated under the framework could or should be used, indicating that other EU legislation should fill in this gap.

What's on the Horizon?

2024: In the next steps, the provisional agreement will be submitted for endorsement to member state representatives at Council level and to the European Parliament.

  • Following the last trilogue, a provisional agreement on the file was found on 19 February 2024.
  • The preliminary agreement was approved by the Council’s COREPER on 6 March and by the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee on 11 March.
  • The European Parliament plenary adopted the final text of the CRCF on 10 April 2024. The Council will need to adopt the agreement (expected in early autumn) before the CRCF is published in the Official Journal of the EU.

Expert Group: The Expert Group on carbon removal kicked off their work in March 2023. Among other tasks, the group will provide technical advice to the Commission on the development of the methodologies under the CRCF. The next meeting will take on 21-23 October.

Methodologies: In parallel to the legislative process, work has started on detailed methodologies for different carbon removal activities that will be set out in separate Commission delegated acts. The first methodologies are expected to be ready in 2026, while certification of the first units under the CRCF is expected in 2026/2027. A draft methodology for biochar is expected to be ready by early 2025.

Within one year of the implementation of CRCF, the Commission will have to assess the potential inclusion of carbon storage in products in the scope of the LULUCF Regulation.

By 2028, a union-wide registry will be set up.

Deep Dive

Aim of the file

The stated goal of the CRCF is to facilitate the uptake of high-quality carbon removals to support the achievement of EU climate commitments, such as those under the Paris Agreement and the Climate Law. The Framework aims to create trust in carbon removals, by setting strong requirements on aspects such as monitoring and liability, and ensuring key ‘quality’ criteria are met – namely ensuring accurate quantification, additionality, long-term storage, and sustainability of certified activities. The Framework also aims to increase transparency by creating a public registry to document the generation, trading, and use of certified carbon removal units.

Meaning for climate goals

By establishing this Framework, the European Union works towards reaching its goal of climate neutrality in 2050 and net negative emissions thereafter, both of which will rely heavily on significantly upscaling carbon removal. As the first legislative file focusing primarily on carbon removal, it also enshrines at a definition for carbon removal that is aligned with scientific consensus (i.e. with IPCC) at the policy level.

By setting strong criteria around quantification, additionality, long-term storage, and sustainability, the Framework further supports a robust approach to governing carbon removal activities, which will be further supported by activity-level methodologies.

Despite these strong criteria on the supply side, the Framework does not provide a comprehensive set of guardrails around the use of units. The way carbon removal activities and units are adopted by public and private actors in their climate change mitigation strategies will strongly inform their . The Framework only states that certified units can solely be used for the EU’s climate objectives and nationally determined contribution (NDC) and should not contribute to third countries’ NDCs and international compliance schemes (e.g., CORSIA). These rules, including on the corresponding adjustments, will be reviewed in 2026. While the CRCF requirement that the four different types of units remain distinct from each other is an important step in ensuring that the greenwashing practices in the voluntary carbon market do not continue, it still leaves room for ambiguity. Strong guardrails on use are needed to simultaneously limit greenwashing and mitigation deterrence, while promoting the adoption of carbon removal by a range of actors in different sectors and activities, channelling a range of revenue streams to scaling up CDR activities.

Interaction with other legislative files

The Framework is expected to work hand-in-hand with other EU instruments to support the sustainable integration of carbon removal into climate change mitigation activities in the Union. The Framework has emerged in tandem with significant EU climate policies, namely communications on . The CRCF preamble references the CDR-supporting actions foreseen in the ICMS, and additionally highlights that ‘it is appropriate for the Commission to assess options for Union targets for carbon removals, including clearly distinguishing a separate target for permanent carbon removals’ – going further than the 2040 targets communication in terms of laying out the need to define the role of permanent CDR.

With respect to corporate claims, the CRCF will interact with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the upcoming Green Claims Directive, which respectively set rules on how corporates report their climate action and regulate public environmental claims. The Green Claims Directive has not yet reached a provisional agreement, with only the European Parliament having adopted a mandate for the trilogues that are expected in the next legislative cycle. The Parliament is driving towards strong principles for corporate compensation claims, namely ensuring that any compensation only takes place for residual emissions, and any fossil-derived emissions must be compensated with permanent removal credits (‘like-for-like’). Any carbon removal credits used for compensation are expected to be required to be CRCF-compliant. The Parliament’s direction on the Directive also enshrines the possibility of using carbon credits (namely those certified under CRCF) towards corporate ‘contribution’ claims where, instead of compensating specific emissions, companies make a financial contribution towards an outcome, but may not claim any specific improvement in climate impact resulting from this contribution. The Council has not yet reached a position on Green Claims. The trilogue negotiations on this file are expected to commence during the next legislative cycle, after the new Parliament is in place.

Supporting strong corporate claims is only one application for the CRCF. The Framework has the potential to underpin diverse applications of CDR that broaden its uptake and contribute to the scaling-up of removals in service of EU climate goals. CRCF will certainly form the basis for recognising and rewarding land managers for carbon removal (and soil emission reduction) activities, contributing to the delivery of emission removal (and reduction) targets under the LULUCF Regulation. But, as the EU moves towards enshrining specific 2040 targets for nature-based as well as for permanent removals, the CRCF should enable the development of policies aiming to develop all types of removals (e.g. by enabling the inclusion of CDR activities in public procurement programmes, or by accounting for CDR in sectoral policies, such as building codes).

Timeline

15 December 2021
30 November 2022
7 March 2023
11 May 2023
21-22 June 2023
30 August 2023
24 October 2023
25-26 Oct 2023
17 November 2023
21 November 2023
2023
28 November 2023
23 January 2024
19 February 2024
10 April 2024
15-17 April 2024
17 June 2024
30 June 2024
9 July 2024
21-23 October 2024
End 2024
2025
July 2026
15 December 2021

Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles by the European Commission announcing the development of the framework

30 November 2022

Proposal for the certification framework adopted by the European Commission 

7 March 2023

First meeting of European Commission expert group on carbon removals

11 May 2023
Draft report from the rapporteur in the European Parliament

 

21-22 June 2023
30 August 2023

The AGRI Committee (committee for opinion) adopted its opinion on the file

24 October 2023

ENVI Committee vote on the adoption of the ENVI report

25-26 Oct 2023
Expert group meeting on industrial carbon removal methodologies
17 November 2023

Negotiating mandate adopted by Member States in the Council

21 November 2023

EU Parliament plenary adopted the ENVI Committee report

2023

Development of methodologies for certification of different carbon removal activities

28 November 2023

Kickstart of trilogues between EU institutions

23 January 2024

Second trilogue between EU institutions

19 February 2024

Third trilogue between EU institutions. A provisional agreement was reached

10 April 2024

The EU Parliament Plenary adopted the final text of the CRCF

15-17 April 2024
4th expert group meeting (online only) which covered a wide range of topics, see agenda here
17 June 2024

Online Workshop on biochar CRCF methodology development

30 June 2024

Deadline to provide feedback on the first recommendations on carbon farming from the “Credible” project

9 July 2024

Online workshop on peatland rewetting CRCF methodology development

21-23 October 2024
End 2024

Expected entry into force of the CRCF

2025

Commission report expected on the potential inclusion of carbon storage in products in scope of the LULUCF Regulation

July 2026

Commission will have to assess the potential inclusion of carbon removals with permanent storage in the EU ETS

Further reading

Status

Unofficial Title

CRCF

Year

2022

Official Document

Last Updated

24/04/2023