Carbon farming explained: the pros, the cons and the EU's plans

(Clean Energy Wire, 23 Dec 2022) Climate neutrality forces all parts of the economy to cut emissions to near-zero, and to capture remaining greenhouse gases in natural sinks, or using technical removal. Reducing the carbon footprint of industry, electricity generation, and transport is relatively straightforward, but agriculture is still struggling to find its feet in the fight against climate change.

An important contribution by farmers could be to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in the soil using "carbon farming." The European Commission looks to be very much in favour of using this approach to reach climate neutrality in 2050, and will present its regulatory framwork on carbon removals by the end of the year. But many German researchers and the country's agriculture ministry warn that soil carbon sequestration is easily reversible, hard to measure, and could lead to greenwashing. This factsheet explains the principles of regenerative farming, the soil carbon storage potential in Germany and the EU, the criticism of carbon farming, and the EU's plans.

What is carbon farming and why is the European Commission pushing it?

The term “carbon farming” refers to agricultural methods that enhance the uptake and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in soil. CO2 is first absorbed from the air by plants, via photosynthesis. The roots and other parts then decompose and are converted into soil carbon by microbes. Plant matter, and with it the CO2, are thus stored in the soil in the form of organic matter, particularly humus.

The European Commission defines carbon farming as “a green business model that rewards land managers for taking up improved land management practices, resulting in the increase of carbon sequestration in living biomass, dead organic matter and soils by enhancing carbon capture and/or reducing the release of carbon into the atmosphere, in respect of ecological principles favourable to biodiversity and the natural capital overall.

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Clean Energy Wire, 23 Dec 2022: Carbon farming explained: the pros, the cons and the EU's plans