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Scaling Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration for Climate Change Mitigation

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Moving towards net zero GHG emissions by 2050 is likely a pre-condition for avoiding global warming higher than 1.5˚C by the end of the century. The land-use and agriculture sector can provide close to one third of this global commitment while ensuring food security, farmer resilience, and sustainable development. Protecting soil organic carbon (SOC) and sequestering carbon in organic matter-depleted soils might cost-effectively provide close to 15% of this target and support another 15% from large-scale restoration and implementation of best agronomic practices.

Major players across food systems have recognized SOC’s potential and are setting up SOC sequestration-based targets to reduce corporate GHG emissions. However, farmer incentives, consumer education for informed choices, and transparent, accurate, consistent, and comparable methods for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of changes in SOC stocks are lagging behind and preventing large-scale SOC protection and sequestration from fully taking off. Improvements in SOC MRV could be achieved notably through deploying new technologies and enabling standardized protocols at low transaction costs.
The development of cost-effective SOC MRV would therefore help to unlock carbon assets and implementation of best agronomic practices at scale. This is especially applicable to developing countries where most of the opportunities to implement improved practices are found. Broadly speaking, developing countries are characterized by limitations in data availability and a lack of technical capacity and infrastructure for implementing and running a robust SOC MRV. In this context, the private sector and international development organizations – such as multilateral development banks (MDBs) – can play a crucial role given their global reach and investment capacity.

By reviewing existing SOC MRV protocols and lessons learned from carbon projects that view SOC as a climate benefit and testing them against other projects, this report provides strategic recommendations to the World Bank Group’s (WBG) Carbon Markets and Innovation team (CMI) and Agriculture and Food Global Practice (GP) division. The recommendations provide guidance for implementing cost-effective SOC MRV of the WBG’s agricultural investments while improving the standardization of processes for creating carbon assets – with the potential to scale across multilateral and international development agencies and governments.

Citation

Costa Jr. C, Seabaur M, Schwarz M, Dittmer K, Wollenberg E. 2021. Scaling Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration for Climate Change Mitigation. Wageningen, the Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).