NSAC's Blog

Soil Health Emerges as Global Priority to Address Climate Change

February 8, 2016

Healthy soil,. Photo credit: USDA

Healthy soil. Photo credit: USDA

Agricultural production accounts for nearly ten percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and farmers and ranchers are among those who will most immediately and dramatically suffer the consequences of climate change. Agriculture has a substantial role to play in global mitigation efforts, and we at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to identify opportunities to support climate change mitigation efforts, including key ways the Administration can address climate change and agriculture in its final year. We are pleased to see that this important issue is now also being seriously debated on the global stage.

Representatives at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, led by the French Agriculture Ministry, recently opened the door for farmers and ranchers to lead climate change mitigation efforts through an innovative soil carbon sequestration effort, the 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate (“the Initiative”).

What is the 4 per 1000 Initiative?

The Initiative provides a framework of voluntary commitments to encourage governments, researchers, and NGOs to pursue soil carbon sequestration (SCS) strategies with the goal of achieving an annual .4 percent increase in SCS globally. The goal of the project is to ensure that the burden of implementing SCS enhancing practices is shared equally by countries across the world, and that existing policies and practices are globally recognized. The Initiative will bring together leading scientists from around to world to develop unified approaches toward SCS, including the development of carbon measurement tools. Research stemming from the Initiative will include metadata collection and assessment of carbon storage potential across different regions, as well as evaluations of the best farming practices for increased SCS and strengthened food security.

While a 0.4 percent annual increase in SCS is the overarching goal of the initiative, it does not mean that each government or organization signing on to the initiative will be required to reach that percentage level on their own. Acknowledging geographic and landscape constrains, the Initiative asks each partner to offer appropriate suggestions and an implementation plan for SCS enhancing practices including: agro-ecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and landscape management.

The Threat of Climate Change to Agricultural Production and Food Security

The Initiative’s summary statement emphasizes the major implications global carbon emissions have for agricultural production and food security:

  1. “Soil degradation poses a threat to more than 40 percent of the earth’s land surfaces and climate change is accelerating this rate of soil degradation and threatening food security.”
  2. “Our capacity to feed 9.5 billion people in 2050 in a context of climate change will depend on our ability to keep our soils alive.”

As the Initiative so clearly outlines, the promotion of soil health is a key factor in ensuring the protection of farmers’ livelihoods. In an effort to achieve this goal, the Initiative urges farmers and food producer organizations to “contribute to and encourage the adoption of new practices to store a larger amount of carbon while increasing soil fertility and resilience, in collaboration with research and NGOs.”

Representation of Farmer Groups is Key for Success

The Initiative provides an opportunity for states, local authorities, companies, farmer organizations, NGO’s, and research institutes to join the effort in unique capacities as best fits their abilities and interests. While the larger goals of the Initiative are to get sign-ons from state governments and begin collaborative SCS research projects with respected institutions, space has also been made for smaller organizations to sign-on and make commitments of their own.

NSAC believes that it is especially important for farmer groups and coalitions to support this initiative and to remain involved in discussions regarding the development of appropriate SCS measurement tools.

Including the voices of farmers and their coalitions is the best way to ensure that soil management practices are diversified and that the needs and abilities of niche producers, such as those in the organic community, are also recognized. According to Wanqing Zhou, Research Associate at the Worldwatch Institute, incorporating feedback from a wide array of producers is critical to ensuring that the Initiative does not become an “emitter-funded tool to continue the use of intensive agricultural technologies.”

How Can Farmers Support the Initiative?

Organizations that work with or represent farmers can get involved and express their support for the Initiative by sending a commitment statement to 4p1000.dgpe@agriculture.gouv.fr. Commitment statements can include your goals, SCS targets, available resources, timeline, acreage, and number of farmers involved. According to the guidelines, “all the stakeholders [should] commit together in a voluntary action plan to implement farming practices that maintain or enhance soil carbon stock on as many agricultural soils as possible and to preserve carbon-rich soils.”

General climate action commitments made by state and municipal actors, universities and researchers, and private industry are available for review here. Twenty-five countries have signed on to the Initiative so far, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Australia. Several research organizations, including the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), have also joined.

NSAC encourages advocates at all levels to reach out to your local, state, and federal representatives to encourage them to align with the Initiative’s goals for SCS and climate change mitigation.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

3 responses to “Soil Health Emerges as Global Priority to Address Climate Change”

  1. Jim Amory says:

    good to see Carbon Sequestration receiving attention – for a quick read on the technique and its promise get “The Biochar Solution” by Albert Bates.

    Jim Amory

  2. Sarah Tiers says:

    It’s very encouraging that the initiative is catching on globally, since the quality of soil is essential for healthy food; therefore, for healthy people on our planet. I’m a consumer and will pray for the initiative. Peace and Love, Sarah Tiers

  3. Diana Donlon says:

    Center for Food Safety was also an initial signatory of 4 per 1000 and was invited by the French Ministry of Agriculture to screen our 4 minute film on soil carbon (http://bit.ly/1jaqKLm) narrated by Michael Pollan at the official launch in Paris.