European Union policymakers said on Wednesday they will create a system to certify carbon removals next year, a move that could pave the way to a regulated EU market to trade them and create a financial incentive to store CO2.
Technologies such as 'direct air capture' suck in air and use chemical reactions to extract carbon dioxide that can then be placed in long-term storage, while trees, soil and wetlands provide natural methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
As part of its plan to have net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2050, the EU wants to scale up removals to offset emissions from sectors like agriculture and heavy industry, which are not expected to be able to cut to zero.
The European Commission said it will draw up a system of certifying carbon removals in 2022, by measuring CO2 removals from technologies and individual land holdings in the EU, and factoring in how long the CO2 would be stored for.
That would allow farmers and landowners to earn EU-recognised credits for removing CO2, and sell the credits to polluters needing to balance their emissions.
"Carbon farming would be a new source of income for land managers," the commission said.
The move could lay the groundwork for an EU-regulated market to trade certified carbon removal credits after 2030, or add them into the EU's existing carbon market, which forces power and industrial companies to buy a permit every time they emit CO2.
Removals can at present be sold into voluntary markets for carbon offset credits, which lack standardised rules and have raised concerns over the environmental claims of some credits.
The EU wants initial projects to capture five million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year by 2030.
That is a tiny fraction of the more than 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent the EU emits, but the target would attempt to kick start nascent technologies.
Large-scale direct air capture projects are under development in countries including the United States, but not the in the 27-country EU bloc.