Member states are keen to step up talks on carbon sequestration in farming under the French EU presidency, given the Commission’s legislative proposal expected by the end of the year.
During their meeting on Monday (17 January), national agriculture ministers welcomed the European Commission’s plans to promote carbon farming – a set of practices geared towards capturing carbon in farmland soils – which is also one of France’s main priorities for its presidency of the agriculture EU Council.
The issue of carbon farming is about “how farmers can be, even more, than they are today, fighters for the climate”, French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said ahead of the meeting, adding that, apart from oceans, most carbon globally was captured in soil.
During this time, the goal would be to ensure that the issue is “accorded importance across all member states”, Denormandie said.
The French minister also announced that lowering the sector’s carbon footprint would be discussed in depth during the upcoming informal meeting of agricultural ministers in Strasbourg in early February.
While there is currently no policy tool to certify or incentivise carbon removals in agriculture, the European Commission has outlined relevant policy measures in a recent communication on sustainable carbon cycles, published in December.
The national ministers aim to adopt formal conclusions on the communication, particularly the envisaged procedure for certifying carbon removals, at their meeting in March, Denormandie said.
Last week, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski spoke out in favour of carbon farming, vowing to advance the issue while ensuring that farmers would be adequately compensated.
The Commission will present a draft legal framework for the certification of carbon sinks by the end of the year.
Administrative burden among the open questions
France’s efforts to advance the issue found strong support from German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir.
“Agriculture and forestry are of key importance when it comes to reaching climate protection goals”, the Green politician, who assumed office in December, said during the meeting.
Carbon farming, he added, is “a great opportunity” for farmers because it offers an additional, reliable source of income.
Other member states broadly welcomed the Commission’s plans.
“We believe that this approach can help achieve climate goals whilst providing our farmers with a new source of income,” said Slovak minister Samuel Vlčan.
However, Vlčan cautioned that a carbon storage policy might be financially costly and entail a high administrative burden.
“We believe that the Commission, in cooperation with the member states, should look for other financing sources above and beyond the CAP,” he added.
Commissioner Wojchiechowski called on member states to dedicate part of their funding from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to incentivising carbon farming practices.
In the eco-schemes of the national strategic plan sent to the Commission on 29 December, Spain already introduced some carbon farming practices “such as intensive grazing, Conservation Agriculture, and plant covering in case of woody crops,” Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas explained.
Several countries also stressed that a clear and reliable system for measuring and remunerating would need to be developed.
“We need direct incentives to compensate for the cost of land and soil management that would be required by farmers”, Spain’s Planas said. Vlčan added that it would be “important to ensure transparency in the carbon credit system”.
Dutch minister Henk Staghouwer, on the other hand, cautioned that “efforts to upscale carbon removal and storage should not undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
Staghouwers thus echoed criticism from environmentalists, who said the plans could risk becoming an excuse for polluters to stall climate action.
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]