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To make agriculture more climate-friendly, carbon farming needs clear rules

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Source: Laura van der Pol, Dale Manning, Francesca Cotrufo and Megan Machmuller, Bizcommunity 2 July 2021, photo credit: Canada Action

As the effects of climate change intensify and paths for limiting global warming narrow, politicians, media and environmental advocates have rallied behind “carbon farming” as a mutually beneficial strategy for society, the environment and farmers.

Agriculture covers more than half of Earth’s terrestrial surface and contributes roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Paying farmers to restore carbon-depleted soils offers a tantalizing opportunity for a natural climate solution that could help nations to meet their commitments under the international Paris climate agreement to stabilise global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

An international initiative called “4 per 1000,” launched at the 2015 Paris climate conference, showed that increasing soil carbon worldwide by just 0.4% yearly could offset that year’s new growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel emissions.

Research shows that farmers and ranchers can also make their operations more resilient to increasingly variable weather by adopting practices that promote soil carbon sequestration. This prospect led us to establish a center at Colorado State University that develops and implements soil-based solutions to climate change.

While many policy options exist to reduce emissions from agricuture, carbon farming has sparked bipartisan U.S. legislation and attracted investors’ attention. Critics question its true potential, however. Some environment and justice advocacy groups argue that paying farmers won’t do much to increase soil carbon, and could allow polluting industries such as manufacturing to avoid necessary emission reductions by buying soil carbon credits from farmers instead.
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