October 31, 2023
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Soil horizons: unearthing perspectives on the future of soil carbon governance

Key Takeaways

Carbon Gap undertook 14 stakeholder interviews covering topics across key subjects such as issues facing EU land stewards and their role in climate action, the current state of technologies that can measure soil carbon, and how to catalyse a climate friendly agricultural transition. In the end, the report concludes that the EU must:
• enact mandatory soil health requirements for member states;
• facilitate tailored transition pathways for a diversity of farmers;
• foster regulation and incentives for private sector participation in the agricultural transition.

Europe faces an interconnected biodiversity, climate and soil crisis with debates looming as to how best to reverse worrying land trends. Overall, EU soils are emitting carbon and most of the EU’s land is degraded. The agricultural sector faces both social and economic issues that threaten the survival of smaller farms.

Some stakeholders advocate for more regulation, whereas others vouch for a market-oriented approach. With the upcoming EU elections and ongoing discussions on key legislations such as the Soil Monitoring Law and the Carbon Removal Certification Framework, soil carbon and how it is governed will be brought to the fore.

This report addresses the common concern that policies could enable a “carbon tunnel vision” where soil carbon becomes the end goal at the expense of soil’s many other functions. The EU should not optimise for soil carbon at the expense of other soil services in a way that drives unsustainable social and environmental trends. However, the EU’s soil carbon gap must be bridged for the sake of climate change mitigation and the many co-benefits this effort can bring to biodiversity and farmer prosperity.

In the end, our analysis presents a three-tiered approach to soil carbon governance in the form of a “doughnut economics” model that encourages the EU to set legally binding soil health targets, craft tailored government support for land stewards, and boost private sector efforts to ensure the EU lands are a carbon sink