The concentration of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere is increasing as a result of fossil-fuel combustion, cement production and land-use change. The increase in GHGs in the atmosphere is leading to climate change and global warming. Concern about climate change has led to the KP, under which most countries are committed to reducing their GHG emissions and to increasing carbon sinks. Currently, the biosphere is considered to be a carbon sink absorbing about 2.8 gigatonnes of C a year, which represents 30 percent of fossil-fuel emissions.
The process of soil CS or flux of C into the soil forms part of the global carbon balance. Many of the factors affecting the flow of C into and out of the soil are affected by land-management practices. Although the real potential for terrestrial soil C sequestration is unknown, any action to sequester C in biomass and soils will generally increase the organic matter content of soils. In turn, this will have a positive impact on environmental, agricultural and biodiversity aspects of ecosystems. The long-term CS potential is determined by the input of C into the soils and the residence time of the pool in which C is stored.
The soils of drylands have lost a significant amount of C and, therefore, offer a great potential for rehabilitating these areas, estimated at 12 - 16 Pg C. There are vast areas of dryland ecosystems in developing countries where improvements in farming systems could add C to soils. The results from the case studies presented in this report show that several practices are available to increase carbon stocks in soils.
Whereas CS itself is not a priority in poor countries, land-management options that increase CS and concurrently enhance plant productivity and prevent erosion and desertification are of major interest in these regions. However, it is unlikely that current mechanisms, such as the CDM, can provide the necessary funds for these regions. Although soils are the major terrestrial carbon reservoir, and agriculture is recognized as one of the major causes of GHG emissions, neither soils nor land-use practices are eligible under the first commitment period of the KP.
However, investments in CS in drylands, as less favoured areas, are needed because they are home to large numbers of poor people and because they are the custodians of globally important environmental resources that are at risk of degradation or depletion. Investments in improved land management leading to increased soil fertility and CS can also be justified in many cases because they can be win - win situations with higher agronomic productivity and contribute to national economic growth, food security and biodiversity conservation.
Enhancing CS in degraded drylands could have direct environmental, economic and social benefits for local people. It could increase benefits for farmers as well as mitigate global warming, at least in the coming decades until alternative energy sources are developed. Therefore, CS initiatives linked to the improvement of degraded soils and plant productivity, and consequently food safety and poverty alleviation in dryland regions, are welcome and are among the main priorities of FAO.
As a purely carbon-market approach is unlikely to be applicable to small-scale farming systems in developing countries, a multilateral approach for the mobilization of resources under existing mechanisms is required. The Global Mechanism (GM) of the CCD promotes such a multilateral path in implementing its mandate to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of existing financial resources and to explore new and additional funding mechanisms for the implementation of the convention. It places specific emphasis on small-scale farming systems in dryland areas of the developing countries. Multilateral approaches include sources to combat climate change with desertification funds, links with sustainable livelihoods and provision of visible benefits to local people, and the mobilization of resources from the private sector.
The CCD, FCCC, CBD and KP all share a common goal: the proper management of soils, including the increase in soil C. Therefore, an important goal of the FAO-GM programme on CS is to promote synergies with the conventions and the private sector for the establishment of an environment fund specifically targeted to CS projects in drylands. Opportunities exist for bilateral partnerships with institutions in industrial countries to initiate soil CS projects involving local communities, also linked to global networks on CS. FAO believes that more effort should go into exploring and exploiting those opportunities.
FAO will take part in the design and implementation of CS programmes in tropical dryland countries based on the regional policies. It will bring the attention of governments to the benefits that CS measures could bring to the dryland farming communities and society. FAO could also play an important role in providing a secure institutional support for the implementation of CS programmes that encourage collaboration between local farmers and investors.