Blind spot on polluters blights EU carbon plan

Posted on 15 December 2021

The European Commission’s plan to manage the capture, storage and use of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, published today, contains good measures but also a major point of concern in WWF’s view.
The ‘Sustainable Carbon Cycles’ communication correctly says that reducing carbon emissions at source must be the priority: the only way we can effectively fight climate change is by massively reducing what we pump out to start with, rather than attempting to remove it once it’s there. 
It also warns against offsetting emissions abroad - meaning the EU could still pollute at home but pay for climate action projects elsewhere to compensate for it. This, even if it worked properly, would only keep emission levels the same overall when we need to hugely cut them. 
Yet there is a massive problem with the Commission’s plan. It wants to put in place a market-based trading system for carbon credits in the land use sector. This means if you plant trees on your land, or start a new farming technique that increases soil carbon, you could in theory ‘sell’ the carbon absorbed to a company, absolving them of having to cut emissions or pay a price for them.  
WWF considers this to be profoundly misguided, as carbon removals in the land sector - unlike fossil fuel emissions, for example - are extremely hard to measure (how much carbon does a tree or some soil store?). They are also potentially reversible (if there is a fire, the carbon is released). 
Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office said:
“If this plan goes through, polluters could simply buy their way out of trouble. But you wouldn’t tackle road accidents by having some bad drivers pay others to slow down. Instead of an offset scheme the Commission needs to focus on public funding, which would help farmers and foresters to take climate action without letting polluters off the hook.”
WWF calls for public funding to be used to help the sector decarbonise. This funding could come from national support schemes, the Common Agricultural Policy, revenues from the Emissions Trading System, or other emissions-related levies.
WWF and eight NGOs wrote to EU Commission Vice-President Timmermans in November to express their concern around the idea of carbon offsets in the sector. 
Sarah Azau
Media Manager, WWF European Policy Office 
Tel: +32 473 573 137
Grass carp farming near Hong Hu, one of the most polluted lakes in China, connected to the Yangtze River. Fishers use grass to feed their carp. China
© Justin Jin / WWF-US