Carbon farming promises to mitigate climate change whilst generating income for farmers – but can this promise be realised, and what are the risks? The European Parliament's Environment and Agricultural Committees held a joint hearing to understand how EU policy can support on-farm carbon sequestration. The hearing featured two panels, including a presentation from Ecologic Institute Fellow Hugh McDonald on the challenges of carbon farming certification.
The hearing was triggered by the EU Commission's proposal for a Framework for Carbon Removal Certification. It proposes to upscale carbon farming by establishing an EU-wide certification standard that would assess and certify that carbon removals, including carbon farming, meet minimum quality standards. Ecologic Institute has identified issues with the current proposal both generally, and specifically related to soil carbon sequestration.
Hugh McDonald's presentation drew on evidence from existing policies and private carbon market approaches to illustrate the challenges of relying on certification and offsetting to upscale carbon farming. Soil carbon sequestration is challenging to certify. It is difficult and costly to measure changes in soil carbon. Carbon stored in soils can be easily released to the atmosphere, either due to management changes or due to natural disasters such as droughts. Hugh McDonald also identified other major issues, including non-additionality, double-counting, and a lack of focus on broader sustainability. Existing carbon farming policies fail to adequately manage these challenges, which makes soil carbon removals non-equivalent to emissions reductions in other sectors. This non-equivalence mean that certified soil carbon should not be used for offsetting. Instead, other policy approaches are required, including more ambitious use of the Common Agriculture Policy.