In addition to measures for enriching farmland and pastures with ‘conventional’ organic matter, a potentially important additional option is available in the form of ‘Biochar’. Biochar can be produced by pyrolysis (low-oxygen combustion) of organic materials – forest thinnings, sawdust, agricultural wastes, urban organic wastes or sewage solids – and the resulting charcoal-like substance can be incorporated into farmland as a long term carbon storage option. These are ways of producing ‘sustainable biochar’ as opposed to its production from monoculture tree plantations, which is rightly vigorously opposed by an international coalition of environmental groups.
Use of charcoal as a soil conditioner has ancient origins, and is best documented with reference to the ‘terra preta’ soils found in parts of the Amazon. Much evidence now exists that charcoal was mixed by Amazonian Indian cultivators with food- and human wastes to enrich poor and acidic soils. The predecessors of today’s Amazonian Indians left behind ‘terra preta’ soils rich in organic matter in some 10 per cent of the Amazon territory. Research has shown that charcoal incorporated in this way can last in the soil for hundreds to even thousands of years.
Biochar is a more stable nutrient source than compost and manure. The porous quality of the biochar particles can improve soil structure, and harbours a vast variety and quantity of micro-organisms and associated plant nutrients, enhancing fertility and life in the soil, and also helping it to retain moisture – which is very important in an age of climate change.
By ‘pyrolysing’ one tonne of organic material which contains half a tonne of carbon, about half a tonne of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil whilst the other half can be used as a carbon-neutral fuel (this equals a quarter of the CO2 absorbed by the plant during its growth). Biochar has the potential to lock the mineral carbon it contains safely away in the soil for centuries. Professor Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University and others have calculated that biochar applications to soil could remove several billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere per year.
Bio-char can be produced from many different organic materials, including sewage and urban biomass. At the sewage works in Bingen, Germany, semi-dried sewage sludge is pyrolysed and turned into black granules: the sewage is turned into charcoal. This can then be buried in farm soil and the carbon it contains can thus be prevented from entering the atmosphere. There is no doubt that the billions of tonnes of sewage and green wastes that accumulate in cities every year, if turned into biochar and buried, could greatly benefit the world’s soils soil as well as the atmosphere.
Incorporation of sustainably produced bio-char could be used to reward farmers as carbon stewards, enabling them to enhance their yields whilst also increasing our ability to deal with climate change.
Members of Parliament from African Countries discuss Visionary Forest Policies
Nairobi/Hamburg, 30 September 2014: An Inter-Parliamentary Hearing on exemplary African forest policies was officially opened with a ceremony at the KICC in Nairobi today. Honourable Ekwee Ethuro declared the hearing officially opened and highlighted the importance of forests to the country.
Mexico City: At the 2nd World Summit of Legislators, the WFC, GLOBE and CISDL presented the Biodiversity Legislation Study that analyses and compares comprehensive biodiversity laws from eight countries. Over 300 high-level representatives and national legislators from all over the world attended the summit hosted by the Mexican Congress.
It has been shown that the carbon footprint of food products (‘foodprint’) can vary substantially. Depending on its production method (organic versus chemical), its content (meat versus vegetarian or vegan), transport routes (air freight, sea freight or local), processing method (fresh versus deep-frozen) and disposal of residues (use as organic fertilizer versus waste), each food item is responsible for a certain amount of GHG emissions during its life-cycle.
Making this information available to the consumer increases transparency in the food market, raises awareness of the consumer, creates incentives for the industry to lower its carbon footprint, and rewards climate friendly products. Consumers should know whether the organic kiwi from New Zealand or the home grown chemically fertilized apple does more harm to the climate. In general, environmental labelling has been a success story since the 1980s. Labels, such as the Energy Star, energy efficiency ratings or the Nordic Swan label have changed the behaviour of consumers and manufacturers. An Eurobarometer survey showed that for an overwhelming majority of Europeans (83 percent) the impact of a product on the environment plays an important aspect in their purchasing decisions.
An evaluation of the specific circumstances of the political and regulatory environment will determine the best choice in each case. Whereas a mandatory label ensures a broad participation, voluntary schemes might have a better acceptance in the industry. A food label should be based on total lifecycle emissions, as opposed to considering only the use-phase. Possible are both, comparative labels which provide consumers with product information through use of a specific number (e. g. ‘1 kg CO2’) or rating (e. g. A–F or 1–5 stars), or endorsement labels which prove that the product meets certain criteria (e. g. below average carbon footprint).
Implementing new labelling schemes necessitates conformity assessment procedures involving testing, inspection, certification, accreditation and metrology. These processes are essential for the effective implementation and acceptance of the scheme.
The EU Commission has taken a first look at this issue but, not surprisingly, has received opposition from the food industry. However, the example of the UK Carbon Label and the Swedish climate labelling initiative show that the concept can be implemented and, with the assistance of governments and industry, can be established on a larger scale.
Case study: Sweden’s Klimatmärkning
In Sweden, the two major certification bodies, KRAV and Swedish Seal, have developed a climate label for food. As the project has been joined by several major food and agriculture companies, the Swedish climate labelling initiative has become the first comprehensive and country wide policy of its kind in Europe.
The climate label covers the food chain from farming to the sale of the produce. So far, criteria for meat, fish, milk, greenhouse vegetables and agricultural crops have been set. Food produced and distributed with at least 25 percent less GHG than comparable products can be labelled with a respective note. In this way the label focuses on the climate friendliest products within a group, but does not help the consumer to choose between meat and beans.
The climate label is accompanied by an information and education campaign, which resulted in recommendations for climate compatible nourishment. In addition, the initiative works with the industry to implement measures to reduce the GHG emissions of food production.
According to press reports (Spiegel-online of 7th Nov. 2009) the climate label increased the sale of Max burgers by 20 percent. Experts are cited to expect a 50 percent reduction of GHG emissions in the Swedish food industry, if the population would switch to climate friendly alimentation. The labelling initiative maintains that 60 percent of consumers would like to see a climate label on products.
Anna Richert, climate expert of the label initiative, says: “The strength of the label is that reductions in climate impact have been made wherever possible. The producer participates in making the food chain more sustainable.”
Click here to access Klimatmärkning homepage.
Press release – for immediate release
Cebu City/ Hamburg/ Eschborn, 28 May 2014: Marine ecosystems are of vital importance for Asia and the Pacific: the region’s rich oceans and coasts are home to diverse species and ecosystems that provide an important food source for over 120 million people as well as valuable services for tourism and recreation. Coral reefs and mangroves protect the coastlines from tsunamis and storms. These vital functions of the oceans are threatened by habitat loss, overfishing, pollution and climate change.
The proposals presented here have to be supported by progressive international climate policy. The Fourth Assessment Report of Working Group III of the IPCC made it very clear that agriculture is the sector most sensitive to carbon pricing policies. Consequently, an agreement to globally tax GHG, or to establish a global carbon emission trading scheme, would be the best way to support local and organic agriculture solutions. Such a clear price signal would – in conjunction with the policies presented before – transform markets and mean a breakthrough for sustainable agriculture.
An innovative way to price the costs of GHG emissions in the food sector was proposed by Franz-Theo Gottwald and Franz Fischler in their book “Ernährung sichern weltweit – Ökosoziale Gestaltungsprinzipien”: the introduction of trade tariffs for agricultural produce equivalent to the external costs of transport, conversion into farmland and emission of greenhouse gases from food production and distribution. Countries that introduced appropriate national food policies would benefit from reduced trade tariffs. Such a policy would be a significant step towards preventing environmentally unsustainable patterns of food trade. Gottwald and Fischer acknowledge that such an international food trade policy would be difficult to implement in the short term, but that such proposals would be a useful stimulus for national and international policy debates.
Moreover, under the policies of the Kyoto Protocol, developed ‘high emission’ countries agreed to reduce their total GHG emissions but they could also choose to fund climate-friendly projects in developing countries. The ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ enabled developing countries to participate in global agreements and to access funds to help them introduce sustainable technologies into their economic development. The successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol should extend such arrangements to bio-sequestration projects – with the explicit exception of ‘Round Up Ready’ GMO crops – for both local and global benefit.