By Philippa Westbury and Sue Rodway-Dyer.
Without accurate and transparent systems of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV), it is not possible to track the deployment and effectiveness of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR).
Earlier this summer, CO2RE researchers Sue Rodway-Dyer and Jo House from the University of Bristol convened a workshop on MRV for GGR. Some reflections are shared here.
The aim of the event was to understand different user needs and priorities in relation to credible MRV. These perspectives will help frame a review of the landscape of MRV frameworks, protocols, standards and regulation for GGR. In turn, this review will highlight gaps, identifying opportunities for the UK to develop governance systems that can underpin the sustainable scale-up of GGR.
A diversity of technologies, sectors and people
GGR encompasses a variety of methods, with a range of technological maturities. In addition, individual GGR methods may comprise multiple processes. Navraj Ghaleigh and Luka Strubelj, CO2RE researchers working on GGR governance and regulation explained how this variety presents a challenge for developing governance systems. As GGR spans lots of sectors including industry, energy, agriculture and other land sectors – and indeed regulatory contexts – a diverse range of individuals and organisations are involved. This breadth adds complexity to the governance challenge.
“While there is a degree of commonality in core principles for MRV across the landscape, there remains considerable variation in the detailed requirements. It is not yet clear how, and from where, a consensus might emerge.”
The workshop participants reflected this diversity – the room was filled with technology innovators, project developers, farming representatives, investors, NGOs, voluntary carbon market organisations, policymakers and regulators, as well as academic researchers. GGR MRV is an area of focus across UK government departments. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and the Department for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are actively developing their policy plans.
What do users want from MRV?
The current MRV landscape is complex and fragmented. The nature of the transition from voluntary carbon market (which enables organisations and individuals to purchase carbon credits on a voluntary basis) to a compliance market (which is mandatory and regulated) is uncertain. This lack of clarity and certainty is affecting business plans and investment decisions – a message emphasised by business participants. While there is a degree of commonality in core principles for MRV across the landscape, there remains considerable variation in the detailed requirements. It is not yet clear how, and from where, a consensus might emerge.
Participants discussed what they thought was needed:
- MRV frameworks, protocols and regulation that create a level playing field across GGR technologies and allow consistency between selling platforms (and in future compliance regimes) operating internationally;
- Transparency, accessibility and rigour of MRV, alongside clear responsibilities and traceability, to build trust;
- Fairness in how outcomes are rewarded and risks are shared between different actors. A key risk – ‘reversal’ risk – relates to the permanence of carbon storage and risk that carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
MRV approaches should, according to this group of stakeholders, reflect the realities of technologies or land-management practices. MRV should be part of a system that incentivises the right actions and not be too burdensome, especially for smaller-scale actors.
Accuracy versus pragmatism
Currently private-sector MRV standards tend to be fairly onerous, with a ‘laundry list’ of requirements. As scientific understanding of the different GGR methods and associated MRV approaches deepens over time, participants expected that these requirements could lighten. They discussed the broader value in this early MRV data to develop understanding, and questioned whether first-mover project developers should be supported – or even mandated – to collect and share data for others to learn from.
Certain key elements are vital, forming a set of minimum standards in the discussions, for example:
- Has the process resulted in negative emissions?
- Are the outputs of the project truly additional to the counterfactual situation (I.e. removal would not have happened in the absence of the project)?
- How permanent is the carbon storage?
- What are the major uncertainties?
Flexibility could also be part of an MRV regime – Ideas ranged from risk-based approaches to varying requirements according to scale or impact of operation, to alleviate the burden for the smallest operators. Technologies and methods such as remote sensing, modelling, automation, digitisation and machine learning could play a role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of MRV over time. Improvements might be iterative as the technologies develop.
Beyond carbon: including broader environmental, social and economic outcomes in MRV
Where scientific understanding of GGR methods is still emerging, the development of MRV methods is particularly challenging. Furthermore, very few studies on GGR methods have so far looked beyond climatic merit (the removal of carbon). Therefore, MRV for non-carbon impacts is especially hard, as we heard from John Lynch, a CO2RE researcher working on GGR co-benefits and trade-offs. But as ecosystems services markets emerge, for example, for biodiversity, flood risk or water resources, systems for rewarding multiple outcomes will require a certain degree of consistency across climate and ecosystem services market. This includes definitions of baselines (the starting point against which the removal of CO2 is measured) and additionality (the idea that a project must result in removals that are additional to what would have occurred in a business-as-usual scenario).
For projects that deliver multiple outcomes at any one time, there is a question about how to prioritise which benefits are optimised for and how to make decisions about difficult trade-offs. Participants were interested in a whole variety of non-carbon impacts – from environmental impacts, and effects on supply chains, jobs and levelling up, to social acceptability and community-based benefits. It can be a challenge to create policy and practical systems that allow multiple benefits to be rewarded. Examples include ‘stacking’ independent credits (e.g. separate carbon and biodiversity crediting schemes) or ‘bundling’ a set of outputs into a single unit (for example a ‘premium’ carbon credit reflecting additional value from biodiversity gain, in addition to carbon removal).
Enhancing research through engagement: What did we learn?
The workshop provided a platform for debate and gathering of different viewpoints and helped in building an MRV community of interest. Feedback from participants highlighted the importance of, and enthusiasm for, collaboration between different stakeholders who are helping to shape how GGR MRV will be regulated. One outcome was the clear need to further develop the sense of a shared common purpose with greater engagement throughout this diverse community.
“One outcome was the clear need to further develop the sense of a shared common purpose with greater engagement throughout this diverse community.”
The workshop participants reiterated the value of a mapping process that compares the various MRV methods and requirements across the lifecycle of the different GGR technologies, particularly given the high level of variation in requirements that currently exists and lack of certainty. Mapping the representation of non-carbon outcomes in MRV systems could also be valuable. Future developments will benefit from collaboration across disciplines – including between scientists and social scientists – and between academics and practitioners.
There was enthusiasm for further workshops on related topics including the removal of greenhouse gases other than carbon such as methane or nitrous oxide; ocean-based GGR and public perceptions of different GGR strategies.
There will be opportunities for future engagement on MRV as CO2RE’s research programme progresses. If you would like further information about the MRV research or other aspects of CO2RE, reach out to email@example.com.