On 11 December 2019, the European Commission presented the plan that would become the cornerstone of all European policies over the next decade: the European Green Deal.
A roadmap for a sustainable and resilient European economy, the Green Deal essentially aims to make the EU neutral in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This vision stems from the recognition of the need to limit climate change, as defined in the Paris Agreement, and translates the urgency of reducing emissions faster than previously anticipated.
This is a reality we all endorse; after all, the real and potential threat posed by climate change and environmental degradation cannot be ignored.
To meet this challenge, the Commission argues, a “new growth strategy” is required, one that is decoupled from resource exploitation and leaves no one behind. The task is titanic, but the opportunities are immense. Yet the Commission seems to have largely focused its attention on agri-food production.
Why? Faced with the ambition of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, major transformations in our systems are necessary in order to both boost the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, and at the same time to capture and monetise this service. Both require strong investment in innovation and knowledge.
“Despite being expensive and energy intensive, they have an added-value creation component that should be looked into more deeply. Here lies the potential of Carbon Capture and Use technologies”
The social aspects underlying the transition should not be neglected. A transformation of this magnitude and urgency cannot be executed without significant economic and social impacts in European economies.
Therefore, the transition’s success will be measured by its capacity to generate green growth or wealth that offsets its costs and consequences for the current economic model. We know this is the only way forward, but we must work to ensure we leave no one behind.
It is in this context that carbon recovery technologies present themselves as a valuable opportunity for reducing emissions. Despite being expensive and energy intensive, they have an added value creation component that should be looked into more deeply.
Here lies the potential of Carbon Capture and Use technologies. Besides limiting emissions, carbon capture technologies can maximise the value of CO2 and integrate it within a circular economic system. The storage can be permanent or long-term, through its mineralisation and use as plastic or construction materials, or short-term, as a substitute for fossil fuels.
The European Commission, however, does not seem convinced. and puts most of its green pressure on the agri-food system. The proposed reforms should make Europe greener by reducing the agri-forestry sector’s carbon footprint and fully harnessing its sink potential.
From the standpoint of political communication, this twofold strategy shows a committed effort, almost radical in its approach. However, it knowingly understates the sector’s leading role as a major carbon sink - a role securely framed in 2018’s Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry Regulation.
Furthermore, it overplays the impact of green reforms in agriculture: these are needed and welcome. However, the fight for climate change cannot depend solely on farmers. It seems as if the Green Deal chose to stress how the Common Agricultural Policy fails the environment, to conceal how the EU fails to innovate. While the agriculture and forestry sectors can and should play a more active role as carbon sinks, they must be fairly rewarded.
“If we want to keep Europe’s way of life as vibrant and as colourful as ever, we must explore all the options offered by science and technology for countering global warming: carbon capture is one of them”
The key here - as it is in carbon capture and use technologies - will be the capacity to bring this effort and investment to the market, in order to properly monetise carbon capture. In this sense, a certification scheme for carbon sequestration in soils must be implemented, which would allow farmers and foresters to receive a financial bonus. Furthermore, public subsidies will not last forever.
If we have options that are beneficial to the market and that can generate income, the market must be allowed to function freely. Moreover, if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions, we should not neglect private initiative.
When it comes to agriculture and forestry, we must focus on the essentials. With a growing population and climate change affecting ecosystems and land use worldwide, the European Union’s agriculture and forestry will have to provide sufficient food, feed and fibre.
In parallel, agro-forestry must continue fulfilling the production needs of numerous industrial sectors, from energy to construction.
Certainly, we must adapt agriculture and forestry in a manner that is increasingly consistent with sustainable development. This way, the sector’s contribution to today’s transition can be maximised.
However, if we want to keep Europe’s way of life as vibrant and as colourful as ever, we must explore all the options offered by science and technology for countering global warming: carbon capture is one of them.