By 2030, the European Commission wants a complete overhaul of Europe’s natural landscapes – switching from unhealthy ecosystems at risk of emitting carbon to restored homes for biodiversity that capture and store carbon.

But farmers and foresters must be at the heart of this transition and properly incentivised so that they can make a living from sustainable practices that help sequester carbon.

Forests, cropland and grassland make up just under half of European territory and hold enormous potential for the capture and storage of carbon. However, land use practices such as intensive tilling, alongside other factors like climate change, mean they are falling short of this potential.

By 2030, the European Commission wants natural spaces, like forests and soil, to capture 310 million tonnes of CO2 – a dramatic turnaround from the 225 million tonnes they were expected to sequester under a business as usual scenario.

“We really need to make sure that this is the decade of change,” said Ville Niinistö, the Green lawmaker in charge of the revision of the land use regulation (LULUCF). He is pushing for the 2030 target to be raised to a highly ambitious 490 million tonnes.

“If we want to address climate change and be in line with the Paris Agreement’s targets and also look beyond 2050 and carbon negativity, carbon sinks should be increasing on a level that achieves something around 700 million tonnes by 2050,” he told EURACTIV.

Carbon removals: the secret to reaching net zero emissions

Europe needs to drastically cut its emissions to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, but there is another tool in the battle against global warming that could help: carbon removals.

‘Carbon farming’

To achieve this target, landowners need to be included in the drive to restore nature and sustainably manage it while also turning a profit.

This includes incentivising landowners to take part in so-called ‘carbon farming’, where farmers and foresters introduce measures, like crop rotation and reforestation, to increase the amount of carbon dioxide that is captured.

“If we sequester carbon in our ecosystems – forests, wetlands – it also has to bring benefits for biodiversity as well. Then farmers, foresters and other land managers need to be rewarded for this financially,” said EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans at a Commission event on carbon removals.

And it is not just about the money – more sustainable practices will also benefit farmers and foresters by improving their land, said Niinistö.

To achieve this, the Finnish MEP says the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) must be shifted from the current hectare-based system of funding to a system that rewards sustainable farming practices.

Carbon farming needs to be incentivised and rewarded, according to ASAJA, the Spanish association of young farmers.

“In Spain, the eco schemes will help carbon sequestration. However they are not currently incentivised; instead, we are faced with a series of obligations. Without any doubt, the contribution made by agriculture should be rewarded and a market of carbon would help,” they wrote during a Twitter chat with EURACTIV about carbon removals.

“Carbon farming can be a ‘win-win-win’ situation for climate, for the quality of our soils and for the farming community, with better productivity and additional income source, as long as National Strategic Plans are in line,” according to the European Dairy Association.

“The right incentives are also fundamental for acknowledging and rewarding farmers’ efforts in implementing more climate-friendly practices,” the group added.

Alongside CAP money, Niinistö has proposed that 5% of revenues from the EU’s emissions trading scheme should help fund carbon removals.

Source: Euractiv