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Soil absorption activities unfit for use in carbon markets

New report finds that soil absorption activities are unfit for use in carbon markets

Paris, 1 December. A report released by Carbon Market Watch today examines the difficulties and risks of integrating soil carbon absorption projects into carbon markets to generate carbon credits. The report shows that the social and economic needs of farmers to make their practices more climate resilient go beyond market instruments.

Agricultural ministers from France, Germany and Uruguay are supporting a soil carbon climate initiative called the ‘4 per 1000’ initiative under the Lima Paris Action Agenda at COP21 to increase sequestration projects in a voluntary action plan backed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). While not a crediting initiative, there are currently no overarching environmental or social criteria for what projects are to be developed.

“Climate-friendly agricultural practices must simultaneously address ecosystem resilience, food sovereignty and sustainable rural livelihoods” commented Kelsey Perlman from Carbon Market Watch. “If a project uses genetically modified seeds that help maintain soil carbon but weaken a farmer’s adaptation capacity in a drought because it’s his only crop, it’s not a climate solution.”

The report underlines the disregard for social and economic co-benefits in agricultural projects found in voluntary markets and puts forward solutions that address the needs of local communities. Technical difficulties associated with accounting for soil carbon such as proving additionality, measuring sequestration amounts and addressing non-permanence, spur from a fundamental difference in fossil carbon and biological carbon, according to the report. The organization explains that land use emissions operate on short time scales and allow for rapid emissions and absorptions while fossil carbon takes thousands to millions of years for CO2 in the atmosphere to be weathered back into rocks.

“Land use activities don’t provide a permanent store of carbon: they are susceptible to climate impacts that can reverse the storage,” says Dr Katherine Watts from Carbon Market Watch. “In contrast, fossil fuel carbon has remained stable in geological formations for hundreds of millions of years. These two types of carbon are fundamentally not interchangeable and it is a cheat to the climate to pretend that they are.”

The discussion on emissions abatement in the agricultural sector should be widened and potential solutions should prioritize adaptation measures, the study finds, and could also include mitigation options that focus on bottom-up sustainable development programmes, such as finance-based Nationally Determined Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).

“The agricultural sector can do a lot to reduce its impact on the planet, while still providing food security,” concluded Watts adding that, “Changing consumption patterns so that we consume less meat will also be important to reduce direct emissions of greenhouse gases and also the area of land required for agriculture.”

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