Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties(COP21) in Paris concluded, diplomats and technocrats created— and are expected to sign in April 2016 —a binding commitment to reduce emissions. Many practitioners in environmental protection and agricultural development have begun working to determine the next steps forward.

The French government has been drumming up support for one possible solution that reflects ideas discussed in a previous article relating to soil carbon sequestration. The French Government has proposed a program, 4 pour 1000 (or 4 per 1000), that focuses on increasing soil carbon as both a way to sequester carbon—a greenhouse gas—and increase the resiliency of the world’s farming systems.

The 4 per 1000 initiative seeks for individual countries, non-government organizations, and private agricultural companies to implement programs to increase agricultural, grassland, and forest soil organic carbon (SOC) by 0.04% (4/1000, thus 4 per 1000) per year. The 0.04% per year might not sound like much, but the French Government predicts that after successful global implementation of this project, the annual increase (4.3 billion tons C/year) in CO2 in the atmosphere could be halted.

Through the program, governments and organizations would set-up incentives for farmers to adopt carbon sequestering agricultural practice (i.e. agroforestry, mulching). While at first this may sound eerily similar to the REDD and REDD+ programs, it is important to note REDD and REDD+ programs do not focus on soil carbon sequestration—though this is the largest terrestrial sink in the world—and typically do not extend to active grass and agricultural lands.

 While this program has great potential both in developing and developed countries, there are a few issues that must be addressed to make it effective. First, most practices that increase SOC require upfront costs by farmers. As mentioned in my previous article, Beyond Soil Carbon Sequestration, this increase in SOC comes with many more benefits beyond carbon sequestration. These benefits include increased water storage in the soil and decreased soil erosion. However, these benefits require years before they are seen.

This means incentives for farmers have to be large enough to offset upfront capital and make the practice attractive for many years before the co-benefits are seen. While carbon prices could help to incentive farmers in this regard, most carbon markets have had artificially low prices. These low prices have not facilitated innovation or adoption of mitigating practices in many sectors. Additionally, projects should also ensure that the incentives are equitable for both large and small farmers worldwide.

In addition to the COP21 participating countries creating a binding agreement on climate change mitigation, countries reaffirmed their commitment to funding the Global Climate Fund (GCF)—at $100 billion USD per year until 2025, when a new funding floor will be set. The GCF is intended to be a funding mechanism whereby developing countries can access the capital to implement countrywide greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs as well as begin to adapt their country to the negative impacts of climate change. The GCF represents a possible pathway to facilitate equitable and effective payments to farmers involved in soil carbon sequestration activities through the 4 pour 1000 program.

The second issue that must be addressed is developing effective evaluation criteria, has to do with that in many parts of the world there is little to no access to soil analytical laboratories. While there have been innovative approaches making more efficient and mobile technology available to analyze soil samples in farmers fields in developing countries (ICRAF Spectral Lab, Soil Cares), availability for rural farmers remains an issue. So as 4 pour 1000 project is implemented, governments and organizations must budget for an effective, efficient, and affordable method to evaluate the soil carbon sequestration throughout long periods of time.

Mitigating and adapting to climate change will not be resolved through a single solution. Under the current emission reductions proposed through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), global annual mean temperature is expected to rise by 2.7-3.9° C above pre-industrial levels—missing the target of no more than 2° under the current commitment. Therefore, solving this issue will take a multifaceted approach.

The global community must use a suite of innovative programs and technologies to both meet obligations at reducing GHG emissions and ensure their countries are prepared for the effects of climate change. The new 4 pour 1000 program has a lot of potential if implemented carefully, and can bring many more benefits beyond soil carbon sequestration.


Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


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