Civil society groups urge the EU to reject upcoming proposal for carbon removals, warning of fossil fuel agenda behind it
Ten civil society groups have published a report urging the EU to reject an upcoming proposal by the European Commission (EC) on the certification of carbon removals. The report concludes that this proposal is just another way for the oil and gas industry to keep fossil fuels flowing, risking catastrophic consequences.
The deadly climate gamble, published by Corporate Europe Observatory in collaboration with nine other groups, examines the responses from fossil fuel companies such as Equinor, Eni and Shell to the EC’s public consultations that paved the way for the upcoming proposal.
The upcoming legislation - due to be presented on 30 November - is a follow-up to last year’s Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles, and both sit within the EU goal of net zero by 2050. Net zero is based on the idea that continued emissions can be balanced by the removal of carbon from the atmosphere through offsetting, capturing, or removing CO2. The widespread acceptance of this theory is partly thanks to the lobbying of energy giants.
At the heart of the proposal is the push for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Despite its repeated failures - being branded a waste of public money and mostly used to pump more oil - CCUS is an integral part of the ‘carbon removal’ technologies proposed by the Commission.
Carbon removal plans for net zero are in direct contradiction to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which makes it clear that only rapid emissions cuts over the coming decade can keep us below 1.5ºC warming, and its most recent report explicitly concludes that CO2 removal “cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions”.
Belén Balanyá, Researcher and Campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, said:
“These policies will guarantee that we will overshoot 1.5ºC, triggering catastrophic consequences for the climate.
“The same companies who want a free pass to keep pumping oil and gas are making wildly unrealistic promises about 'capturing' their emissions or removing them from the atmosphere at a later, unspecified date.
“CCUS and other risky, largely untested geoengineering technologies are a get-out-of-jail-free card for Big Polluters. A real solution to address the crisis starts with the rapid phase out of fossil fuels.”
Notes to editors:
The report is published by Corporate Europe Observatory in collaboration with Biofuelwatch,Corporate Accountability, Food and Water Action Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth International, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Europe, ReCommon and Third World Network.
- The fossil fuel industry used the consultations to lobby for massive support for CCUS, including a broad CO2 transport and storage network. This lobby was successful as shown in the final communication. The communication directly supports CCUS by funneling more public money into carbon capture, utilisation and storage infrastructure, providing more regulatory support and creating an annual forum that puts industry in the driving seat. Put plainly, the Commission is saying yes to years of lobby demands from the fossil fuel industry.
CCUS is also a key piece in the grand hydrogen hype. EU hydrogen plans include ‘blue’ hydrogen made using fossil gas, with the promise (always in the future) that CCUS will capture and store emissions.
- Oil and gas companies are pushing for yet more public support for CCUS, including as a key component of problematic carbon removal technologies (because the infrastructure needed for CCUS are prerequisites for BECCS and DACCS, speculative carbon removal technologies via bioenergy or direct air capture). For the fossil fuel industry, carbon removals are a sure-fire route to get CCUS back on the table.
- Dirty energy giants such as Eni, Vattenfall, Equinor, IOGP and Eurogas are pushing weak voluntary industry standards as the basis for carbon removals certification. This is a common lobbying tactic for big business to avoid regulatory oversight, and risks getting ‘removals’ certified even though they do not remove carbon from the atmosphere and cannot ‘offset’ real emissions. Equinor also suggests limits on transparency, saying public disclosure should only be done “sufficiently and appropriately” – a dangerous move that could undermine public accountability. The Commision is putting industry in the driving seat, including through its Carbon capture, utilisation and storage Forum.The next meeting of the group, now a permanent fixture, will be in October 2022. Despite pretensions to portray it as a multi-stakeholder body it is heavily dominated by fossil fuel industry groups. This is reflected in the draft paper vision on CCUS that the Forum is preparing for DG Energy and that reads as an industry wish-list.
- The oil and gas lobby is pushing for an EU carbon removals market, potentially expanding the EU Emissions Trading System. Certificates for carbon removals could be used as tradeable offsets. This would multiply the dangers from existing carbon offset markets, which already fuel carbon colonialism, land grabs, and human rights abuses..
- The report analyses the responses from fossil fuel companies and their lobby groups to the Commission’s autumn 2021 public consultation on restoring sustainable carbon cycles, and its spring 2022 consultation on the certification of carbon removals.
- The European Commission is expected to publish on 30th November a legislative proposal to establish a carbon removal certification framework for the monitoring, reporting, and verification of removals.
- The Commission’s carbon cycle communication envisages two distinct types of carbon removals:
- ‘Nature-based’ removals, which aim to store carbon in natural systems like forests and soils through, for example, ‘carbon farming’. Groups such as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy have detailed the problems with the Commission’s flawed market-based approach to nature-based carbon removals which benefits corporations to the detriment of farmers, food sovereignty, and the just transition to agroecology.
- Industrial or ‘technology-based’ removals, which incorporate and are underpinned by CCUS. Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) combines CCUS with the burning of bioenergy and Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) that uses huge fans that capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere, combined with CCUS to store it. These technologies are largely untested, and highly risky, use colossal amounts of energy and resources, and drive land grabs and destructive monoculture plantations that increase CO2 emissions and threaten human rights. ‘Negating’ one third of today’s fossil fuel emissions, for example, would require land equivalent to up to half of the world’s total crop-growing area.