NET News Issue 7: Editorial
Hot on the heels of the early discussion of the potential and perhaps essential contribution that CDR/NETs could make in mitigating climate change and pursuing climate restoration, came the recognition of the potential unwanted side effect of mitigation deterrence (moral hazard) – the possibility (some would say the likelihood) that the promise of tomorrow’s techno-fix would undermine today’s essential emissions reduction efforts. The maintenance of separate targets for reductions and removals is one approach that has been discussed to address this risk.
The emergence of voluntary marketplaces for verified CDR “credits”, such as that launched by Finnish start-up Puro in 2019, brings a new urgency to the need to find a clear path forward on this issue. Such marketplaces can stimulate credible and effective science-based climate action, by channeling funds to CDR/NET start-up companies and, since such credits are not (currently at least) admissible to carbon markets or fungible with national emissions reductions credits, they cannot (yet) impact nationally mandated emissions reduction efforts. However, they can influence the behavior of sectors and businesses that are not covered by such schemes, providing these players with the opportunity to portray themselves at the forefront of climate change mitigation irrespective of whether they have first taken action to minimize their own emissions.
This raises an important question; is there a need for a voluntary code of conduct to accompany the emergence of markets for CDR credits? The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting are a valuable first step, with Principle 1 guiding companies to prioritise the reduction of their own (direct and indirect) emissions, and then to use offsets that are verifiable, and that correctly account for and “have a low risk of non-additionality, reversal, and creating negative unintended consequences for people and the environment.”
However, the call for a shift to 100% CDR offsets by mid-century (Principle 2) invites a headlong rush by those seeking “climate leadership” credentials.
While there is a clearly a need to support the growth in supply of robust CDR credits, safeguards are also needed to ensure that we do not end up having to remove emissions that should have been abated, or having to deal with negative unintended consequences.
A comprehensive code of conduct is needed, building on the Oxford Offsetting Principles, to provide clear guidance to companies and as a basis for investors and other stakeholders to challenge corporate climate action plans.
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