Partenariat mondial sur les sols

RECSOIL: Recarbonization of global agricultural soils

There is a collective call from the global citizens to decarbonize the economy; Our response is to recarbonize our global agricultural soils!

Soils constitute the main terrestrial carbon pool. RECSOIL is designed to address the key challenges humanity faces today within an enabling framework integrated by a series of institutions and commitments related to climate change and sustainability. The main objective of the programme is to support and improve the national and regional GHG mitigation and carbon sequestration initiatives.

How does RECSOIL work?

RECSOIL is a mechanism for scaling up sustainable soil management (SSM) with a focus on soil organic carbon (SOC). The priorities are to: a) prevent future SOC losses and increase SOC stocks; b) improve farmers' incomes; and c) contribute to food security. RECSOIL focuses on agricultural and degraded soils. The mechanism supports the provision of incentives for farmers who agree to implement good practices. One of RECSOIL's financing mechanisms is voluntary carbon credits, supported by other components.

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a major component of soil organic matter (SOM) and enables many soil functions and ecosystem services. The role of SOC in the climate system and in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation is gaining great attention in the international fora and the sustainable management of soils is being recognized as a feasible solution to sequester atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHG) such as NO2 and CH4.

Soils constitute the main terrestrial carbon pool. Only at 30 cm depth, we have 694 GT of soil organic carbon (SOC). If we go deeper, the amount becomes higher and higher.

But world’s soils are under increasing pressures due to population growth and associated increased demands of food, feed, fibre and fuel. Over and misuse of soils lead to degradation. Since the industrial revolution, we have lost a significant amount of soil carbon from agricultural soils due to unsustainable practices. Around 27% of global GHG emissions (particularly CO2, N2O and CH4) come from agriculture. Soil degradation has negative consequences for the environment and for the provision of key ecosystem services.

Transforming food systems is urgent since the processes involved produce 18 Gt CO2 every year accounting for 71%, a third of the anthropogenic emissions of the planet with the largest contribution coming from agricultural and land-use change activities. More than half of that (39%) is generated by food production and farming inputs, the remaining 32% involves the conversion of natural ecosystems into farms. This highlights the importance of focusing on sustainable agricultural practices that improve soil health and reduce emissions.

When looking at GHG emissions, the focus is put on CO2; however, N2O has a calorific potential 198 times higher than CO2. Major source of N2O are the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers. Sequestering N2O is not as feasible as it is for CO2 and its impact on the ozone layer is catastrophic. Therefore, sustainable practices are to be adopted to reduce the emissions of this gas from agricultural soils.

Currently, there is a SOC race as many initiatives are being established to move SOC sequestration into practice, especially by offering offsetting emissions options to big emitters. However, we need to use this opportunity in order to boost soil health. Soil organic Carbon sequestration constitutes an important vehicle to mobilize investments but the ultimate goal should be Soil health for providing multiple benefits to all. At the same time, it is important to note that there should be a balance between removal of Greenhouse gases and reduction of emissions.

There is a potential for soils to contribute to climate change mitigation, adaptation and building resilience of agri-food systems. However, the following uncertainties prevent the scaling up of investment towards SOC sequestration and healthy soils globally. These uncertainties are hindering progress towards materializing this win-win situation:

  • Lack of trust from the investors 
  • Additionally and Permanence of SOC sequestration
  • Harmonization of SOC measuring, reporting and verification systems  
  • Medium term investment
  • Voluntary carbon markets Vs. compliance carbon markets 
  • Ecosystem services are not valued
  • Lack of awareness on the relevance of SOC 
  • Lack of financial incentives for farmers

Given the current pressure to mitigate climate change by reducing/offsetting emissions, particularly the CO2 ones, there is an important opportunity for the soil sector to take up this challenge.

However, we need to highlight that SOC sequestration through soil organic matter addition and storage is not only a feasible solution for CO2 emissions reduction, but it is also the vehicle for building healthy soils. Indeed, soil health is the ultimate goal of RECSOIL. The adoption of sustainable soil management practices focused on SOC sequestration will boost soil health and make soils more fertile, more productive, more resilient to shocks, and will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

RECSOIL is an innovative initiative with the aim to boost soil health through the maintenance and enhancement of soil organic carbon stocks. It unlocks the potential of soil organic carbon to provide multiple benefits through key ecosystem services. Healthy soils directly contribute to enhance food security and farm income, reducing poverty and malnutrition, providing essential ecosystem services, contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, fight climate change, and builds soils' resilience to extreme climatic events and to pandemics.

RECSOIL works as follows: a) a feasibility assessment of the current SOC stocks and the potential to sequester SOC is made and the productive systems/value chains and farmers identified; b) if farmers and farmer associations in those potential soil areas are interested to be part of RECSOIL, an agreement is reached; c) farmers are central to RECSOIL as they need to adopt good practices, and in turn they receive technical support throughout all the cycle (maximum years if linked to carbon credit markets) and financial incentives; d) after adoption of good practices, there is a need to measure, report and verify the impacts of such change. Thus, based on the investment source, a decision is made from the beginning of whether it follows the Green or the Carbon Credit Path and the protocols are used accordingly.

RECSOIL comes with as a 'toolkit' that includes:

RECSOIL includes two paths: the Green Path and the Carbon Credit Path. The Green path is entirely focused on enhancing soil health and the provision of ecosystem services by sequestering atmospheric CO2, reducing the emissions of CO2 and N2O. Here, the compliance with the VGSSM is central and there are no carbon credits associated to it. The Sustainable Soil Management protocol is compulsory for measuring the ecosystem services gains/impacts and GSOC MRV (Monitoring, reporting and verification) is used in a complementary manner to quantify the SOC and GHG (greenhouse gases). The Carbon credit path is instead focused on generating transferable carbon credits that can mobilize funding.

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