Sixty-eight countries commit to carbon capture, soil protection

With its focus on soil health and carbon sinks, the communiqué is in line with the key priorities set by Germany and the EU for the coming years, including the EU’s soil strategy. [BMEL/Photothek]

A total of 68 countries agreed to contribute to climate protection and biodiversity conservation by protecting agricultural soils at last week’s global conference of agriculture ministers in Berlin. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Healthy soils are a key factor in meeting the global challenges of our time,” said the final communiqué adopted by the ministers on 28 January.

Agricultural soils, in particular, are crucial for sufficient and high-quality food production, climate protection and adaptation, as well as for species conservation, the paper also writes, adding that all sectors must contribute to sustainable land use, it continues.

The week-long Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) is organised annually in Berlin and brings together nearly 70 agriculture ministers from across the world, as well as representatives of international organisations like the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

“Close international cooperation between agriculture ministers is my great wish because we are facing enormous challenges worldwide,” German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said at the opening of the conference, emphasising the climate crisis in particular.

The crisis has led to weather extremes worldwide – most recently in East Africa – which is currently facing the worst famine in 35 years due to drought, he added.

Soils to receive same legal status as air, water in first EU-wide soil health law

The European Union’s soil strategy has outlined plans for a soil health law by 2023 to bring soil on the same legal footing as air and water, and EU lawmakers have warned this must be a hard deadline.

Carbon storage

The ministers also agreed to reduce soil pollution and avoid further soil degradation by promoting agroecological and other approaches, as well as improving information systems. “Sustainable pasture management” also has a positive effect, the communiqué also writes.

Countries also emphasised the impact healthy soils have in protecting the climate. For example, the countries want to maintain and build up the humus layer in soils to bind CO2 from the atmosphere in the soil – a practice also known as carbon farming.

With its focus on soil health and carbon sinks, the communiqué is in line with the key priorities set by Germany and the EU for the coming years, including the EU’s soil strategy which has outlined plans for a soil health law by 2023 to bring soil on the same legal footing as air and water.

In a paper on sustainable carbon cycles published in December, the European Commission further announced the launch of a system for certifying and rewarding carbon sinks in agriculture.

It is also one of the priorities set by the French EU Council presidency, with French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie pushing the issue at the agricultural council of EU-27 ministers.

Germany’s Özdemir has also repeatedly emphasised the potential of carbon farming since he took office in December as part of the new “traffic-light” government of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and the liberal FDP.

International trade

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who also attended the conference, was pleased with its results and stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation and international trade for global nutrition.

“We must continue to work for a rules-based, multilateral trading system worldwide,” he told the participating countries. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), in particular, has a special role to play, he added.

At the EU level, the role of international markets is currently being discussed, particularly with regards to how the bloc can implement its sustainability goals in the agricultural and food sector without risking the migration of production to countries with lower standards.

France, for example, wants to focus on the so-called “mirror clauses” during its EU presidency stint. The aim is to ensure EU standards also apply to food imported from third countries.

At the same time, international agreements such as the communiqué adopted on Friday could help ensure demands on agricultural production are harmonised across countries.

“We have to act now – and in global solidarity,” said Özdemir, adding that soil protection is a global concern despite there being no ‘patent remedy’ that suits every country.

Concrete measures or a commitment to implement specific measures are not featured in the paper adopted last week, however.

Member states put pedal to the metal on Commission’s carbon farming plans

Member states are keen to step up talks on carbon sequestration in farming under the French EU presidency, given the Commission’s legislative proposal expected by the end of the year.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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