France Has the Right Idea?

Perennial cropping in a garden in Herefordshire; the aim is to produce food and raise soil organic matter.


The Answer Lies in the Soil?

Earlier this year, France set a little-noticed government target. This was to increase the organic matter content of its soils at a rate of 0.4% per annum 1.

This snippet of information by itself sounds trivial. But it’s far from trivial. This rate of takeup could compensate for much of France’s present greenhouse gas emissions.

Not even the most successful attempts at more energy-efficient buildings physically take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Various forms of carbon capture and storage (CCS) offer to do this and to offset CO2 emissions.

The attempts at so-called geological CCS, which focus on taking the CO2 out of power station exhaust gases and pumping it underground; e.g., into abandoned oil or gas wells, have slowed or halted. It will probably take a while before any of these approaches are commercially viable.

By contrast, the approach of biological CCS could offer benefits over the next 20-30 years. This is the period in which taking some CO2 out of the atmosphere might help avoid reaching the so-called ‘tipping point’ which climate scientists have warned of.

Paris Climate Summit

As I write, world leaders at the Paris summit have agreed to try to limit the world temperature rise to 2.0 degrees K. Under pressure from low-lying island states, they have also added that 1.5 degrees K is preferable; i.e., 1.5 K versus preindustrial levels, meaning the temperature of the planet in the late 18th. or 19th. century.

Without very strong action in the next 20 years, not even a 2 degree K warming – the target adopted by the EU and agreed to at the Paris summit – is within reach. Bear in mind that we’ve already warmed by 1 degree K since pre-industrial levels.

We urgently seem to need more affordable ways to limit the temperature rise, so maybe bio CCS is one of them. It could be cheaper than many proposed energy investments. Some of these cost £100s or £1,000s to reduce CO2 emissions by one tonne. The money payable to farmers for ‘carbon sequestration services’ also means that there might be political support in Europe for a bio-CCS policy at a time when farming incomes are under such pressure.

So, top marks to France. Let’s hope it succeeds and let’s look forward to some action by other countries.


By the way, apologies for the timelag since the last blog. The delay was due to pressure of work.