The urgency for developing and deploying carbon removal technology is increasing after the IPCC concluded that carbon removal must rapidly scale to limit the effects of global warming. However, for many of the most promising forms of carbon removal, science-first measurement, reporting, and verifications (MRV) guidelines do not exist. As a result, a substantial body of research (including my own) has demonstrated that existing carbon removal standards have failed to create high-quality carbon credits—creating a large trust gap between creators and purchasers of carbon credits.
As part of ongoing US policy efforts to accelerate carbon removal technology, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded funds to four National Laboratory-led partnerships to develop carbon dioxide removal quality guidelines. My colleagues and I at Carbon Direct are proud to contribute our expertise to one of these efforts, a project to develop technical and community foundations for high-integrity carbon dioxide removal measurement, reporting, and verification led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The need for universal carbon removal standards
The carbon removal market today is still in its infancy, with investors taking on the burden of assessing quality in the absence of robust standards. This is a challenging undertaking, especially considering the fact that carbon removal methods are highly diverse, ranging from scientifically-vetted approaches to new, unproven technologies. Knowledge and resource gaps for assessing the efficacy of these projects among potential investors lead to unnecessary risk and decreased trust, preventing the growth of commercialized carbon removal.
While standards exist today, many have proven to be opaque, subjective, and counter to current scientific best practices. The inconsistency in standard setting largely stems from the fact that traditionally, dealers of carbon credits have the quality standard setters, leaving a research gap between climate science and commercial interests.
Bringing scientific expertise to carbon removal quality standards
As part of ongoing efforts to increase consumer trust in carbon removal options, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has formed a working group of scientists and business leaders from leading academic and industry partners, including Carbon Direct. Over the course of two years, the initiative’s deliverables include developing and publishing an umbrella framework for assessing all carbon removal projects, testing the framework through a direct air capture case study, and creating best practices for implementation to ensure widespread adoption.
Carbon Direct, in partnership with Microsoft, has already published our own set of quality criteria, but in working with the broader climate and academic community, we have an opportunity to expand our reach to provide an independent, expert-led framework designed for universal adoption. The end goal is to accelerate the commercialization of carbon removal, increase market demand, and scale project deployment to help meet global climate targets.
Like the Carbon Direct/Microsoft Criteria for High-Quality Carbon Removal, the initiative incorporates the needs of all carbon reduction stakeholders, including buyers, sellers, policymakers, local communities, and scientists. The framework will also take into account factors such as environmental justice and equity, job creation and quality, and community impact when assessing quality standards.
For organizations looking to reduce carbon footprints, our collective efforts to create trusted universal standards stand to lower the barrier to entry and reduce the risk of carbon removal investments. Ultimately, added trust in the carbon removal market supports growth, which for buyers, will reduce costs, leading to meaningful greenhouse gas reductions, slowing the impacts of climate change.