【News】 Japan to join France-led initiative to capture carbon in agricultural soils (Nov. 29, 2015)


Senior special writer, Masaru Yamada

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to join a global initiative proposed by the French government to capture a large amount of carbon in agricultural soils. The idea under the so-called “4 per 1000” initiative is to increase the carbon stock of agricultural and forest soils by 0.4 percent every year to reduce emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Measures to prevent carbon from flowing out of soils include plowing in crop residues and manures and planting cover crops to avoid soil erosion. Such measures can also help recover fertility of agricultural soils degraded by excessive, repeated cultivation.

Masamichi Saigo, Director General of the ministry’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council (AFFRC) Secretariat, is scheduled to attend a meeting on the issue which will be held on the sidelines of the United Nations conference on climate change (COP 21) starting on Monday, Nov. 30, in Paris. He is expected to agree with his counterparts from other countries such as France and New Zealand on facilitating research and development and sharing information on the issue.

The French government, which advocates the initiative, has been asking governments, international institutions and private organizations worldwide to join the campaign since spring.

France, which hosts COP 21, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, focuses on utilizing soils as part of efforts to tackle global warming. However, research is still lacking on the effectiveness of capturing carbon in agricultural soils and what kind of agricultural method is appropriate.

France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry plans to call on international institutions and researchers to establish a framework to cooperate on researching soil carbon stocks, including its mechanism, evaluation methods, policies to promote the idea, monitoring methods and so on. France is also proposing holding meetings regularly.

It is estimated that soils worldwide contain a total of some 1.5 trillion tons of carbon. Other estimates show that soil organic matter stores about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and about three times more than forests and other vegetation. This means even a small improvement can bring significant contributions on a global scale. If public and private sectors work together to create a global network to deal with the issue, it will be effective to preserve soils and solve global warming at the same time.

Yasuhito Shirato, Senior Researcher of the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, said attempts to prevent global warming and soil degradation by increasing soil carbon stocks through appropriate management of agriculture are recently getting a lot of attention. Shirato said the French government’s “4 per 1,000” initiative has been talked about among some Japanese researchers as well. He said the project has great potential, welcoming increased cooperation among researchers worldwide.

(Nov. 29, 2015)

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