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Study of Economic Policies Designed to Promote Carbon Sequestration in Farmland

The Kyoto Protocol explicitly recognises carbon sequestration induced by human activity – or “additional” sequestration, as opposed to “natural” sequestration – as a means of attaining the legally-binding objectives set out with regard to greenhouse gases. It specifically mentions absorption by wells and emissions from sources resulting from voluntary changes in the use of soils and forest-related activities: deforestation, reforestation and afforestation. More specifically, as concerns the forests, of particular concern will be the carbon accumulated in the wells formed by the forests planted since 1990 on land not previously wooded. However, the Protocol says nothing about the role of other wells, nor does it go into how funds allocated to compensate for carbon sequestration could be calculated or how the actual effects could be verified.

Various texts issued by the European Union mention additional sequestration. The 6th Community Action Programme for the Environment ("Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice”, contains the following instruction – albeit vague: “…carbon sequestration should be taken advantage of using techniques that improve carbon wells in agriculture and forestry, and with the use of wood-based products in building and industry…”.

It is thus important to carry out studies, from as early as now, to pave the way for public decision-making in this field, especially as France is clearly behind in this area when compared to other countries, and in particular, the United States (see the bibliography, which lists almost exclusively North American undertakings).

This research project is part of Topic 2 of the APR (“Emissions Reduction Strategies”) and more specifically Point 2.3 regarding agriculture and territorial planning, as well as Topic 4 (“Carbon Sequestration in the Context of the Climate Convention”) and more specifically in Point 4.2 regarding the impacts of changes in land use. We propose to focus our research on the economic instruments designed to promote additional carbon sequestration in farmland, rather than through conversion of farmland into forests, which we do not see as very promising in France.

The idea behind this study on the opportunities arising from additional carbon sequestration in farmland is that it would be a relatively low-cost way of fighting climate change. The idea would be particularly relevant to France, which not only as large expanses of farmland, but also, taking into account the proportion of electricity of nuclear origin in its total energy production, has little room for manoeuvre in terms of carbon abatement through its energy choices.

This idea calls for further detail. The costs of additional sequestration will vary significantly, depending on which alternative farming practices are considered (change in rotation, institution of interspersed crops, change in soil ploughing methods, primarily through the elimination of ploughing and replacement thereof by direct seeding or simplified soil ploughing, etc.), geographic characteristics specific to the farms affected (location, type of soil, climate, previous crops, etc.) and the type of production they offer. The soil uses or new practices will neither have the same benefit nor the same effectiveness in storing carbon, from region to region. We are thus faced with a variety of practices, which lead to a variety of consequences in terms of sequestration, and this significantly complicates the task at hand for economic policy with a view toward encouraging sequestration. We do not suggest undertaking an original study on the diversity of sequestration costs, but simply to take stock of the findings of existing scientific research, for instance on the basis of the audit carried out by INRA in 2002. Once the sequestration costs have been clarified, we will look at the economic policy instruments that can be used to provide incentive for sequestration, primarily subsidies and carbon credit allocation.

  • Climate Policy and International Climate Negotiations
  • Mitigation