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Agricultural Carbon Mitigation in Europe

Smith P, Powlson DS, Smith JU, Falloon P, and Coleman K. 2000. Meeting Europe's climate change commitments: Quantitative estimates of the potential for carbon mitigation by agriculture. Global Climate Change 6:525-539.


Under the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union is committed to a reduction in CO2 emissions to 92% of baseline (1990) levels during the first commitment period (2008-2012). The Kyoto Protocol allows carbon emissions to be offset by demonstrable removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Thus, land-use / land-management change and forestry activities that are shown to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels can be included in the Kyoto targets. These activities include afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol) and the improved management of agricultural soils (article 3.4). In this paper, we estimate the carbon mitigation potential of various agricultural land-management strategies and examine the consequences of European policy options on carbon mitigation potential, by examining combinations of changes in agricultural land-use / land-management.

We show that no single land-management change in isolation can mitigate all of the carbon needed to meet Europe's climate change commitments, but integrated combinations of land management strategies show considerable potential for carbon mitigation. Three of the combined scenarios, one of which is an optimal realistic scenario, are by themselves, able to meet Europe's emission limitation or reduction commitments.

Through combined land-management scenarios, we show that the most important resource for carbon mitigation in agriculture is the surplus arable land. We conclude that in order to fully exploit the potential of arable land for carbon mitigation, policies will need to be implemented to allow surplus arable land to be put into alternative long-term land-use.

Of all options examined, bioenergy crops show the greatest potential for carbon mitigation. Bioenergy crop production also shows an indefinite mitigation potential compared to other options where the mitigation potential is finite. We suggest that in order to fully exploit the bioenergy option, the infrastructure for bioenergy production needs to be significantly enhanced before the beginning of the first Kyoto commitment period in 2008.

It is not expected that Europe will attempt to meet its climate change commitments solely through changes in agricultural land-use. A reduction in CO2-carbon emissions will be key to meeting Europe's Kyoto targets, and forestry activities (Kyoto Article 3.3) will play a major role. In this study, however, we demonstrate the considerable potential of changes in agricultural land-use and management (Kyoto Article 3.4) for carbon mitigation and highlight the policies needed to promote these agricultural activities. Since all sources of carbon mitigation will be important in meeting Europe's climate change commitments, agricultural carbon mitigation options should be taken very seriously.