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Jul 11, 2024

Carbon Direct, in collaboration with Microsoft, releases the 2024 edition of the Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

Blog

/

Jul 11, 2024

Carbon Direct, in collaboration with Microsoft, releases the 2024 edition of the Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

Blog

/

Jul 11, 2024

Carbon Direct, in collaboration with Microsoft, releases the 2024 edition of the Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

Three years ago, when Carbon Direct collaborated with Microsoft to publish the first Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal, the carbon removal market was in a very different place. There was little consensus on what a high-quality carbon project looked like, and the supply and demand for these projects was extremely low.

In 2021, we initiated the Criteria with two simple goals in mind. The first was to help project developers understand how Microsoft defined quality, and what bars they would need to meet in order to be considered in their RFP process. Behind this was a broader goal of helping to define quality in a nascent market. From improved forest management to direct air capture, we wanted to demonstrate that carbon removal solutions can be defined, quantified, and evaluated with a science-based approach.

Remarkably, quality-oriented, removals-focused purchases of carbon credits increased fivefold from 2021 through 2023, from 3.1 million to 15.1 million tonnes across both spot market and forward purchasing. But the market is still in its infancy compared to the billions of tonnes of carbon removal per year that we need by 2050. As the science of carbon removal continues to mature, as projects for emerging carbon removal methods are piloted, and as direct field experience grows, the Criteria must also evolve year after year to accurately represent what defines best-in-class carbon removal. This learning process is central to achieving the colossal scale-up the industry requires.

Emerging alignment across carbon removal quality standards

Today, working towards shared quality standards for carbon removal is more important than ever. We’re pleased to see emerging consensus around the importance and definition of high-quality carbon removal. As one example, in the United States, the release of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Joint Policy Statement and Principles sets out shared quality principles and sends a strong signal for broader market participation. And in the EU, the widely anticipated Carbon Removal Certification Framework sets a high regulatory bar for voluntary carbon removal credits that may ripple across the rest of the market. Alignment on benchmarks for quality will be essential to catalyze the necessary confidence in the market, across both buyers and suppliers, to rapidly scale carbon removal.

Microsoft and the Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

Accelerating carbon removal through landmark forward offtake deals

Through implementing the Criteria in direct procurement of carbon removal, buyers like Microsoft have been able to simultaneously help accelerate the development of more high-quality projects and build collective demand for those projects.

Just three years ago, engineered carbon removal projects were confined to labs and pilot facilities. Today, with the help of landmark forward offtake deals, projects like Ørsted’s Kalundborg Hub and Stockholm Exergi are under contract to deliver over 5 million tonnes of durable carbon removal by the mid-2030s.

For nature-based solutions, projects like those with re.green, Mombak, Ponterra, and BTG have demonstrated innovative solutions to restoring over a hundred thousand acres of degraded land in South America, delivering millions of tonnes of carbon removal while contributing to local ecosystems and communities.

These deals are some of the world’s largest carbon removal transactions to date, made possible by the implementation of the Criteria as part of Carbon Direct’s deep technical diligence. Desk- and field-based evaluations confirmed each project’s potential to deliver high-quality, equitable credits with confidence.

The 2024 edition: What’s new?

This year, we’ve updated the essential principles for high-quality carbon removal and the criteria for each carbon removal approach. These updates reflect advances in our collective understanding of established and emerging solutions alike, from forestation to direct air capture to biomass-based pathways. Each update was developed by subject matter experts drawing from their applied research, direct field experience from project evaluations and site visits, and the latest academic and technological research.

Full Report: Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

Environmental harms and benefits

We made one major change to the Criteria this year. For the first time in two years, we updated and separated out a core principle: environmental harms and benefits. Scaling up carbon removal is central to the IPCC goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees or less of warming, compared to pre-industrial levels. Yet, climate change is not the only environmental crisis we face. Regardless of whether they are engineered, hybrid, or nature-based solutions, carbon projects are grounded in physical space and have an impact on the environment in which they occur. High-quality projects must accordingly strive to minimize environmental harm, while also promoting benefits by enhancing ecosystem health and environmental services.

Many of the criteria for environmental harms and benefits are not new. They were formerly categorized under the umbrella category “Harms and benefits,” which included both social and environmental impacts. And while people and the environment are inextricably linked, it is essential to address environmental harms and benefits directly. By introducing a dedicated principle, we hope to shine a light on the importance of protecting and enhancing nature while scaling up the carbon removal industry. We also re-integrated social impacts under a single principle of “Social harms, benefits, and environmental justice” to better reflect the highly intersectional nature of social impacts and environmental justice. Although many of the criteria remain the same, we hope these structural changes increase the clarity and ease of implementation for both project developers and buyers.  

The future of the Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Dioxide Removal

While the scientific and technological advancements, market growth, and policy developments we have seen are promising for the carbon removal industry, there’s still a herculean amount of work to do to meet long-term targets. To meet IPCC targets and keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, we need 5 - 10 billion tonnes of carbon removal by 2050. Novel carbon removal methods—like biochar and direct air capture—will play a significant role in meeting this goal, but today only remove 1.34 million tonnes annually. Nature-based carbon removals similarly need to scale up dramatically. 

At Carbon Direct, we are committed to scaling the carbon removal market by addressing key quality challenges. We believe science must lead the way in catalyzing meaningful, effective climate actions at scale. We will continue to update the Criteria each year to build market confidence, guide the development of emerging carbon removal pathways, and ultimately help remove billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Carbon Removal