EU Needs to Push Further on CO2 Removals, Nature Protection – WWF

New LULUCF target sets course for 57% emissions reduction by 2030. 

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called for “more ambition” following a majority vote in the European Parliament to increase the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation’s 2030 CO2 net removal target last week.  

“It’s welcome that MEPs have voted for a modest increase to the European Commission’s paltry target for carbon removals, but unfortunately not by as much as Rapporteur Ville Niinistö had proposed,” said Alex Mason, Head of EU Climate and Energy at WWF.  

Originally adopted by the EU in June 2018, the LULUCF Regulation aims to incentivise member states to decrease CO2 emissions and increase removals from natural carbon sinks, including forests, peatlands and wetlands. To meet the regulation’s set targets, member states may look to incentivise investment in reforestation projects while aiming to reduce deforestation, for example.

As part of its ‘Fit for 55‘ (Ff55) strategy, the Commission proposed that the LULUCF Regulation 2030 net removal target should be increased from 225 million tonnes of CO2 a year to at least 310 million tonnes by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels. Although it is still subject to a final plenary vote in Parliament in June, approval of this amendment sets the EU on course to reduce CO2 emissions by 57% by 2030 instead of 55%. If LULUCF’s 2030 target remains at 225 million, then the EU will be on course to achieve a 52.8% reduction in emissions by 2030.  

“It is welcome news to see that the carbon sinks target will be increased, this will also be beneficial in supporting biodiversity, reforestation and regenerating wetlands in Europe,” said Helena Wright, Policy Director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network focused on ESG risks in animal farming systems.  

However, this is significantly less than the 490 million of CO2 a year target suggested in Niinistö’s draft LULUCF Regulation amendment report. 

The LULUCF Regulation could actually achieve 600 million tonnes of CO2 removal a year by 2030, according to a 2021 paper published by WWF. 

“Given the climate emergency, the LULUCF Regulation can be much more ambitious,” Mason said. 

The Commission’s recommendation that non-CO2 emissions from agriculture should be included under the LULUCF Regulation was rejected by the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), with MEPs noting that this would allow agricultural emissions to be offset by removals generated by the carbon sinks.  

“Net removals in the land use sector are hard to measure and can be reversed, so can’t be treated as tonne-for-tonne equivalent to emissions in other sectors,” said Mason.  

The Parliament also called for the Commission to set country-based carbon removal targets in the LULUCF sector every five years from 2035. 

ENVI voted on a raft of Ff55 measures, including the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the ETS2 for road transport and buildings, Renewable Energy Directive, and the Effort Sharing Regulation. 

However, there has been fears that efforts to increase biodiversity and protect nature, including changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, could be watered down to concerns over a looming global food crisis.  

A framework for nature 

While increased clarity around the parameters of the LULUCF Regulation is a positive step, Mason said it needed to be “complemented” by additional legislation beyond the Ff55.  

“WWF is strongly advocating for the Nature Restoration Law, which has been delayed until June,” Mason said. The law will introduce binding targets for member states to restore habitats to a healthy ecological condition.  

Later this year, the EU will also publish its proposal for the certification of carbon removals, developing rules to monitor, report and verify their authenticity. It will also serve to bolster innovative solutions to capture, recycle and store CO2 across industries like forestry and agriculture. 

In November 2021, the EU published a proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products, through which large traders would be required to carry out due diligence to ensure their products are not linked to deforestation, setting targets for high-risk commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil.  

The Commission is further expected to propose a legislative framework for a sustainable food system in 2023. 

A new report by WWF outlines policy pathways through which this regulation could promote nature-positive food production across member states, implementing regenerative agriculture practice (such as sustainable land use) and higher animal welfare standards. 

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