EU mulls over plan to boost carbon-storage on farmlands

Agricultural land located on peatland are considered among the best carbon sinks. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Farmers and foresters need to be “directly incentivised” to put in practice carbon-capture crops and other measures intended to reduce net greenhouse gases (GHG), according to an update of the European Commission’s Climate Law.

The new communication presented on Thursday (17 September) aims at storing more carbon on European farmlands and forests through a “robust carbon removal certification scheme.”

To do so, the EU executive plans to overhaul several pieces of legislation in 2021, such as the on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry regulation (LULUCF) and the Effort Sharing regulation.

The Commission also calls on member states to deploy carbon farming and certification of carbon removals in the run-up to 2030.

With around 51 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent removed from the atmosphere and stored in the topsoil of agriculture land during the photosynthesis process, carbon sequestration is considered a key measure in both climate mitigation and adaptation.

Some of the most effective carbon sinks are grasslands and permanent pastures, as well as agricultural land located on peatland and other organic soils.

Good farming practices, such as crop rotation and afforestation, can also have a role in keeping farming carbon neutral.

However, the idea of carbon removals from agriculture, land use and forestry has been criticised by several environmental NGOs.

Commission under fire for including 'carbon sinks' into EU climate goals

The European Commission on Thursday (17 September) defended its plan to bring carbon removals from agriculture, land use and forestry into the EU’s updated climate target for 2030, saying this was in line with UNFCCC standards.

The core aspect of the Climate Law update is to scale up the EU’s ambition for reaching the climate neutrality by 2050.

In order to do so, the Commission proposed to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40% to 55% and vowed that all legislation will be revised to make it fit for the new target.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), the agriculture sector produced around 10% of the EU’s total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, with 426,473 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent produced in 2015.

“While these emissions can never be fully eliminated under existing technology and management options, they can be significantly reduced while ensuring food security is maintained in the EU,” the Commission’s impact assessment reads.

Efficient use of fertilisers, precision farming, a healthier herd and the deployment of anaerobic digestion producing biogas, as well as valorising organic waste are listed as examples of existing technologies that could help cope with emissions reduction.

The document also shows that by 2030 emissions reductions stemming from changing consumer choices towards healthy diets could be of the same order of magnitude as technical options available to reduce emissions in the sector.

In September 2019, EU farming ministers discussed how to best support carbon capture through the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with the aim of bringing forward this tool as one of the best ways of cutting emissions.

In that informal meeting, organised by the Finnish Presidency of the EU Council, ministers were unanimous in stressing that measures improving farming sustainability require both sufficient funding and the right incentives.

Carbon-capture crops need incentives through CAP, EU ministers said

Soil carbon sequestration and other measures intended to reduce net greenhouse emissions in farming require proper funding and a degree of flexibility, EU agriculture ministers agreed at an informal meeting hosted by the Finnish Council presidency.

Last week, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI), voted on their opinion on the Climate Law, which included proposals for the possibility of soil carbon sequestration scheme.

Asger Christensen, the liberal MEP who drafted the opinion, believes it can be supported by establishing a separate trading scheme for negative emissions.

The committee chair, centre-right German MEP Norbert Lins, welcomed that the Commission “is paving the way for new income opportunities through carbon farming for farmers.”

However, he added that the devil is in the detail as farmers need market-based solutions for carbon farming and real incentives

“We don’t want a bureaucratic monster, but a carbon sequestration certification system that works,” he concluded.

Agrifood Brief: The agri-side of Europe's man on the moon moment

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Once again, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under fire …

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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