Net Zero in European Green Deal

The Commission has published a draft Regulation to implement the European Green Deal.

It sets 2050 as a goal for getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Having thought about that “net zero” term before, I was wondering how carbon sinks figure into that.

Recital 12 of the draft reads:

“The Union should aim to achieve a balance between anthropogenic economy-wide
emissions and removals, through natural and technological solutions, of greenhouse
gases domestically within the Union by 2050.”

If “antropogenic” in that sentence refers to both emissions and removals, all natural carbon sinks would not count. Only carbon capture and storage projects would figure into the equation.

Of course in that case, you would end up with a negative balance if you do count forests in the EU.

In contrast, Article 1 Paragraph 3 reads:

“This Regulation applies to anthropogenic emissions and removals by natural or other sinks of the greenhouse gases listed in Part 2 of Annex V to Regulation (EU) 2018/1999.”

“Removals by natural or other sinks” clearly does include natural sinks like EU forests.

And the main goal in Article 2 Paragraph 1 reads:

“Union-wide emissions and removals of greenhouse gases regulated in Union law
shall be balanced at the latest by 2050, thus reducing emissions to net zero by that
date.”

If we assume for a moment that land based carbon sinks like forests are included, what about the oceans? This goal clearly wants to count only what happens in the EU territory. Some of the ocean area of the planet is part of the EU countries, but the vast majority of it is not. Does this goal want to count only whatever is absorbed by the oceans belonging to the exclusive economic zones of Member States?

If so, whatever is absorbed outside of these areas would be a net negative when counting per head of population.

On the other hand, it does seem pretty clear that everything absorbed in land-based sinks like forests in the EU should be counted, so this goal requires not only reducing emissions but also increasing sink capacity by having more and healthier forests. Developments like the recent forest fires in Australia would make it harder to meet the net zero goal.

Anyway, I am not sure right now how natural carbon sinks are supposed to figure into that balance. I am pretty sure though that natural carbon sinks do figure into the balance when asking how much carbon gets dumped into the atmosphere. And I am also quite sure that over half of the emissions have been absorbed by carbon sinks over the last 50 years, making a net zero goal including those sinks much easier to achieve.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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