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Tuuli Orasmaa: What the sauna can teach us about soil carbon sequestration

Publication date 19.9.2019 11.25
Photo: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

The main topic of the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Agriculture is soil carbon sequestration as a climate action in agriculture. Delegates should think of the meeting as if they’re going into a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, a wood-heated, chimneyless sauna hut: head slightly bowed – the doorways are small in old saunas – and hands fumbling in the dark to guide them. But decidedly taking steps towards something new.

Multiple benefits from carbon sequestration

Almost half of the EU’s surface area is agricultural land, and this stores many times more carbon than the EU annually emits into the atmosphere. We must safeguard these carbon stocks. With suitable farming techniques, the soil could also absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than it currently does. Over the past decades, the total carbon stock of agricultural land in the EU countries has generally decreased.

Increasing soil carbon stocks brings climate benefits, but it can also benefit farmers, as it improves soil productivity and helps in adapting to climate change and extreme weather events.

Research and development still needed

Estimates of the climate impacts of carbon sequestration on farmland can be impressive. According to a recent IPCC special report, Climate Change and Land, increasing the amount of soil carbon is among the most significant climate actions in the land use sector.

However, there are also uncertainties linked to carbon sequestration. For instance, they have to do with how sequestered carbon is retained in the soil and the challenges of measuring climate impacts. Research and monitoring mechanisms are constantly being developed. When devising climate action and policies, we must proceed with in a reasoned manner as new knowledge accumulates. Just like when we enter a smoke sauna – stepping forward, taking care. We’ll soon hit our heads on the doorframe if we forget where we are and where we’re going.

Encouraging member states to act

At the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Agriculture, the discussion will focus on how to best support soil carbon sequestration through, for example, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). We’re also hoping that the member states will share experiences of national measures promoting soil carbon sequestration. In Finland, just like in many other EU member states, there is a wide range of research on carbon sequestration in agriculture, and many projects involving farmers are also under way.

One of the purposes of the informal meeting is to stimulate discussion on the opportunities and challenges of agricultural land in terms of carbon sequestration and to encourage member states to act. The best possible result for both the climate and European agriculture can be achieved when carbon sequestration is strengthened throughout the EU. That’s also how we ensure the best possible sauna experience: through careful preparation and by sharing it together.

Tuuli Orasmaa, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry