Today we would like to share with you a publication developed by our colleagues at the University of Leeds, which discusses how to unlock private investment in soil carbon in England. In particular, it discusses the transition of agricultural subsidies in England from paying farmers to maintain food production to providing public goods such as climate change mitigation, biodiversity and flood protection.
In England, agricultural subsidies are evolving from paying farmers to maintain food production to providing public goods such as climate change mitigation, biodiversity and flood protection. However, it is estimated that between £21 billion and £53 billions of additional private green finance is needed to deliver the 25-year environment plan in England alone. Better alignment between developing Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and private carbon markets is key to unlocking this investment.
To develop highly integrated agricultural soil carbon markets, the difficulties farmers face in registering with both the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and emerging agricultural soil carbon markets need to be addressed. To unlock private finance, new public programmes should focus on paying farmers for soil carbon testing and for sequestering carbon in already well-managed, carbon-rich soils.
Soil carbon is essential for soil health, microbiology, nutrient cycling and many other processes that maintain healthy soils, and is key to the climate resilience of our food system. It is therefore justified to pay public money to maintain soil carbon where it is “above and beyond” that of comparable farms. In addition, the European Commission’s recent proposal for certification of carbon removals argues for the adoption of a baseline that reflects the ‘standard performance of comparable activities under similar social, economic, environmental and technological conditions’. This means that farmers who maintain higher levels of soil carbon could receive payments above the baseline.
Current policies related to soil management include the Water Framework Directive and the cross-compliance rules of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) (GAEC 4, 5, 6). These include minimum soil cover, minimising soil erosion and maintaining soil organic matter (SOM). However, these rules do not include an obligation to measure baseline data for existing soil carbon stocks, nor mechanisms to establish compliance or non-compliance for most of the GAEC. It is expected that these rules will cease to apply as part of the transition away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy in 2024.
In conclusion, unlocking private investment in soil carbon in England is critical to achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan and achieving a more sustainable and climate resilient agriculture. To achieve this, there is a need to better align ELM schemes and private carbon markets, to focus on paying farmers for soil carbon testing and maintaining carbon stored in already well-managed, carbon-rich soils, and to adopt a baseline that reflects the ‘standard performance of comparable activities in similar circumstances’. It is also important to recognise the value of soil carbon as a public good and to justify paying public money to maintain higher levels of soil carbon. These recommendations can unlock the private investment needed to achieve a more sustainable and climate resilient agriculture in England.
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