The land sector is key for reaching a climate-neutral economy, because it can capture CO2 from the atmosphere. However, to encourage the agriculture and forestry sectors to deliver on climate action and contribute to the European Green Deal, it is necessary to create direct incentives for the adoption of climate-friendly practices, as currently there is no targeted policy tool to significantly incentivise the increase and protection of carbon sinks for land managers.
For this reason, in December 2021 the Commission adopted the Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles , as announced in the Farm to Fork Strategy. The Communication sets out short- to medium-term actions aiming to address current challenges to carbon farming in order to upscale this green business model that rewards land managers for taking up practices leading to carbon sequestration, combined with strong benefits on biodiversity. These include:
- promoting carbon farming practices under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and other EU programmes such as LIFE and Horizon Europe, in particular under the Mission “A Soil Deal for Europe”, and under public national financing;
- driving forward the standardisation of monitoring, reporting and verification methodologies to provide a clear and reliable framework for carbon farming;
- providing improved knowledge, data management and tailored advisory services to land managers.
Examples of effective carbon farming practices include:
- Afforestation and reforestation that respect ecological principles favourable to biodiversity and enhanced sustainable forest management, including biodiversity-friendly practices and adaptation of forests to climate change;
- Agroforestry and other forms of mixed farming combining woody vegetation (trees or shrubs) with crop and/or animal production systems on the same land;
- Use of catch crops, cover crops, conservation tillage and increasing landscape features: protecting soils, reducing soil loss by erosion and enhancing soil organic carbon on degraded arable land;
- Targeted conversion of cropland to fallow or of set-aside areas to permanent grassland;
- Restoration of peatlands and wetlands that reduces oxidation of the existing carbon stock and increases the potential for carbon sequestration.
The Commission has already promoted carbon farming in its recommendations on the Member States’ CAP Strategic Plans and will continue outlining carbon farming possibilities in its further assessment of the CAP Plans until their adoption in 2022.
In addition, in order to provide clarity on the quality of carbon removals and address the current lack of standardisation of existing frameworks, in 2022 the Commission will come forward with a legislative proposal to develop a regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify their authenticity.
Technical guidance on carbon farming
On 27 April 2021, after a two-year study the Commission published a technical handbook on how to set up and implement carbon farming in the EU, aimed at helping private actors and public authorities start up carbon farming initiatives.
The study explored key issues, challenges, trade-offs and design options. It reviewed existing schemes that reward carbon sequestration or reduced emissions in five areas: peatland restoration and rewetting; agroforestry; maintaining and enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) on mineral soils; managing SOC on grasslands; and livestock farm carbon audit.
The study concluded that result-based carbon farming can contribute significantly in the EU’s efforts to tackle climate change and provided concrete recommendations on its implementation. Pilot initiatives should be developed at local or regional level in order to gather experience to upscale carbon farming. This will enable improving design aspects, in particular the certification of carbon removals, and expanding farmers’ knowledge and understanding of the potential benefits for them.