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France—The 4 per 1000 Initiative

The French Government has been promoting different participatory/multi-stakeholder initiatives that can help the country meet its INDC pledge to this Paris Agreement. Following the COP21 (cf. the Lima-Paris Action Agenda), France has clearly shown its interest in and commitment to developing agro-ecology in order to ensure sustainable soil management and reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions. Among the key/supported initiatives, the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) launched the 4 per 1000 initiative (“L’Initiative 4 pour 1000”), as a participatory/private-public approach that encourages farmers to enhance their economic and environmental performance by increasing carbon sequestration in soil. France’s commitment is to ensure that more than 50% of its agricultural holdings will have implemented the agro-ecology initiative/approach by 2020.

The 4 per 1000 initiative, launched during the 2015 COP21, aims to demonstrate the crucial role agricultural soils can play in improving food security and limiting climate change. The scientific theory underlying this initiative states that a 4% annual growth rate of the amount of carbon stocked in the soil (cf. carbon sequestration) would make it feasible to limit and even halt the annual increase in atmospheric CO2.

The positive impact is twofold: on the one hand, the increase in carbon stocks in the soil would lead to halting the increase in atmospheric CO2 (and, therefore, reducing GHG) and; on the other hand, this increase would also lead to more fertile agricultural soils and an improved ability to cope with climate changes. So far, the combat against climate change has mainly focused on the restoration/protection of soils and forests. The above-described initiative focuses on covering soils as a means of making them richer in organic materials, i.e. richer in Carbon. The 4 per 1000 initiative addresses three key/global issues that include, the degradation of soil (threatening 40% of the dry land in the world), the threats to food security and the extreme events resulting from/amplified by climate change (e.g. drought).
Simulating the effects of this initiative on a global scale shows that increasing Carbon sequestration in the first 40 cm of the soil by +0.4% would lead to an anthropogenic equilibrium of CO2 and the halting of emissions due to land use change. Applied to the surface of soils, i.e. to an equivalent stock of 860 GtC (Gigatons of Carbon), the annual 4% target would translate into a 3.6 GtC of additional Carbon stock that would counter-balance the increase in atmospheric CO2.

The potential behind this initiative is significant on a global scale, i.e. 570 Million farms and more than 3 Billion people living in rural areas could implement these practices. The fact that environmental actors started promoting this initiative only recently (following the COP21 in 2015) makes it difficult to measure and evaluate on a large/national scale. Nevertheless, there are examples that show the replicability of this initiative at the EU/International level. The Portuguese Carbon Fund, for instance, estimated the Carbon storage/stock resulting from the rehabilitation of degraded grasslands at 1 Million Tons (e.g. using appropriate fertilizers, adapted forage plants, etc.). This initiative’s contribution to meeting France’s INDC pledge is, therefore, twofold: on the one hand, implementing the initiative nationally will result in the above-described benefits. On the other hand, the replicability of this initiative at the international/EU level will help the EU reach the 40% GHG emission reduction target by 2030.

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