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Mitigation and Adaptation in Agriculture – World Bank summary note

November 3, 2009

The World Bank have recently published an agriculture and rural development note on ‘Reduced Emissions and enhanced adaptation in Agricultural landscapes’ which reports key messages from a Bank conference in January.

It includes some succint messages about the potentiality and issues related to integrating adaptation and mitigation in agriculture, including in the context of the post-2012 framework.  With the meetings in Barcelona and Copenhagen, the timing of the release of the note is clearly opportune.

On the mitigation potential represented:

There is significant biological/technical potential for GHG mitigation within agriculture through both emissions reductions (mainly of N2O and CH4) and removals of CO2 (with increasing storage of carbon (C) in soils and biomass on agriculture land), on the order of 5.5 to 6 Pg CO2e yr, over a 10-30 year time horizon (IPPC – Working Group III, 2007).  The dominant component (about percent) of this potential is associated with soil carbon sequestration in cropland and grazling lands and restoration of degraded lands in developing countries (IPCC – Working Group III, 2007).

It goes on to state the security of the science in the sequestration potentiality of soil carbon, emphasising instead that lack of detailed policy consideration of soil carbon sinks is due in part to lack of understanding of capabilities to measure soil carbon:

‘The fundamental problem with respect to direct measurement of soil carbon stocks and stock changes is not so much an issue of measurement capabilities, but rather a question of applying efficient sampling designs and rigorous protocols. 

Accuracy in measurement is possible through direct measurement, but practical application and transaction costs make it unfeasible.  Modelling is also possible, but variables in factors mean that accuracy is brought into question.  This means that a protocol involving elements from both approaches to measurement is required.

Establishing and financing soil carbon programmes may rest heavily on the possibility to include them in emissions trading.  This in turn will depend upon whether Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will allow appropriate treatment of Article 3.4 to the Kyoto Protocol on ‘Additional Activities’.  Article 3.4 is used to guide how countries account for changes in greenhouse gas emissions in national inventories from agricultural soil, land use change and forestry.  The broad activities and rules, and methods for monitoring and verification of which were defined at COP 11 (Montreal).

The Bank note recognises that for article 3.4 sinks to be included:

there needs to be substantial investment in research and development of both emissions and sequestration on agricultural land

Required investment includes pilot projects, establishment of lab and field protocols, scaling activities, data consolidation, funding mechanism establishment, capacity building.

Given the substantial sequestration possibilities at low-cost, and with co-benefits, it is likely that soil carbon activities will be increasingly subject to the interest and investment that is needed.  Secure mechanisms and protocols will take time to develop, but pilot activities, including incorporation into emissions trading, have already been initiated.  

Challenges remain, but in anticipation of the political will and technical potentiality for a positive outcome, we can expect that there might be a little of the wild west in the build-up to defined rules.

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