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Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture

Why carbon?

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions make up the biggest slice of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions make, up about 66% since 2010, and reached record highs in 2019, with 37.9 GtCO2 fossil emitted into the atmosphere (1). Given even low GHG emission scenarios, there is a greater than 50% probability that global temperatures will rise to at least 1.5ºC by 2040 (2). Following the Paris Agreement, it is intended to keep the increase in temperatures well below 2°C above pre-industrial values, striving, however, to limit these values to 1.5°C.

Carbon and agriculture

To reach this target, the EU is pressing ahead not only with emissions reductions (55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels), but also with carbon capture and storage (CCS). With the 2050 target for climate neutrality and the subsequent goal of negative emissions to stabilise global temperature increase, the EU sets a goal of 310 MtCO2 net removal equivalent in the land sector by 2030 and draws attention to the need to develop CCS capacity, which is the main character of its own commission communication to the European parliament and council entitled "Sustainable Carbon Cycles" (3). This should be of global concern, however, as CO2 removal and land use change are accounted for in the calculations to establish the 1.5ºC pathways put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Needs for assessment and promotion of practices

The importance of CCS for natural and resilient ecosystem-based solutions is paralleled by an important role in other global problems, including ecosystem degradation and biodiversity reduction, water scarcity and drought, natural disaster reduction, and health. This goes hand in hand with the need to increase resilience and adaptation to the expected impacts of rising temperatures. The EU aims to encourage pilot projects and cooperation between land managers in testing and developing new agri-food approaches that promote CCS, to research, develop and transfer this knowledge and to advise farmers and foresters on how best to follow and adapt to these practices. To enable the evaluation and dissemination of these practices, there is a need to standardise the methodologies and rules for monitoring, reporting, and verifying gains and losses in carbon sequestration, assessing the longevity of carbon sequestration in plants and soils, and ensuring that the defined methodologies and rules are scientifically validated.

European Union recommendations

The EU points, among others, to the following general land management practices for increasing carbon sequestration (and simultaneously promoting more resilient ecosystems):

- Afforestation and Reforestation

- Agroforestry or Agroforestry Systems

- Soil protection, reducing soil loss through erosion and increasing soil organic carbon on degraded arable land, using:

- Intercropping

- Cover crops

- Conservation tillage

- Increased landscape elements

- Conversion of fallow or set-aside land to permanent pasture

Cycle of webinars on carbon sequestration

To learn more about some agri-food practices that are being studied and put into practice now, learn about the possibilities of carbon sequestration in agriculture, and learn what these practices can mean for agricultural production and carbon sequestration, you can attend our webinar cycle "Carbon Sequestration ". Learn more here.

(1) Data from the annual emissions gap report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Second Assessment Report: (3) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Sustainable Carbon Cycles

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