18 Mar 2021, 13:57
Kerstine Appunn

EU needs to determine rules, measures to ensure CO2 uptake of natural sinks – report

Clean Energy Wire

The European Union is planning to make the CO2 uptake of natural sinks part of its path toward climate neutrality, but depending on the specific rules a loss in stored greenhouse gases could be the result, an analysis conducted by the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut) and commissioned by Greenpeace suggests. Carbon storage in natural sinks in the EU peaked in 2006 with 355 million tonnes of CO2 but has declined to 280 million tonnes in 2018, roughly the same level as in 1990. Nevertheless, if natural sinks are included in the EU’s calculations and goals as negative emissions, other sectors would be permitted to emit more, the institute says. A solution would be to increase the bloc’s climate ambition and give natural sinks a separate target. “This should help to set incentives to increase natural sinks, but also to improve their overall situation by restoring and protecting ecosystems,” the researchers write.

With legally binding, enforceable quantitative national targets in place, natural sinks in the EU could store 400 to 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030, according to the analysis. Protecting old forests, renaturalising peatlands and placing coastal ecosystems such as salt marshes under protection would be a win-win situation for species protection and the climate, Judith Reise, co-author of the paper, said in a press release. However, the report also analyses the conflicts an expansion of sinks would create for EU strategies to increase renewable energies, adapt to climate change and protect biodiversity.

The details of how to include natural sinks in the EU’s climate action target and measures are still under debate between EU legislators as part of negotiations on the bloc’s climate law. While the overall target of minus 55 percent emissions by 2030 has been fixed, activists and the lead negotiator from the European Parliament hope that by adjusting the role of sinks in the “net target” this loophole can still be closed and climate ambition thereby raised.

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