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Payments for Environmental Services under Emerging International Agreements: A Basis for Inclusion of Agricultural Soil Carbon Sinks

Michael M. Odera and Stephen K. Kimani

No 9539, 2004 Inaugural Symposium, December 6-8, 2004, Nairobi, Kenya from African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE)

Abstract: This review places in context the role agricultural soils play in global carbon dynamics, and their potential interaction with climate change through soil carbon sequestration. The paper first examine the potential of soils as carbon sinks, agricultural practices and dynamics in soil organic carbon, emerging agreements on payments for environmental services (PES) that mitigate global warming through enhanced carbon sinks, exclusion of agricultural activities in PES under Kyoto Protocol, and the basis for inclusion of agricultural soil carbon sinks through sustainability based production systems. Soils are one of the planet’s largest sinks for carbon and hold potential for expanded carbon sequestration through changes in management. The global soil organic carbon (SOC) inventory is estimated to be 1200-1600 billion metric tonnes, which is equal to or slightly greater than amounts stored in terrestrial vegetation (500-700 billion metric tonnes) and the atmosphere (750 billion metric tonnes), combined. Agricultural soils, having been depleted of much of their native carbon stocks, and occupying an estimated 1.7 billion hectares, have a more significant potential SOC sink capacity. Global estimates of this sink capacity are in the order of 20-30 billion metric tonnes over the next 50-100 years. The total global agricultural soils’ SOC stocks are estimated at 167-170 billion metric tonnes. When soil is put into cultivation, associated biological and physical processes result in a release of SOC over time, often 50% or more, depending on soil conditions and agricultural practices. Consequently, there is potential to increase SOC in most cultivated soils. Many management practices have been demonstrated to increase SOC, including incorporation of crop residues, and increases in cropping intensity and fertilization. Past and on-going biophysical studies have been able to identify and demonstrate organic based soil fertility management practices, with modest applications of mineral fertilizers that would concurrently lead to improvement in SOC levels, nutrient loss amelioration and improved agricultural productivity. Management practices that could add 4 T C ha-1 yr-1 in the system have been demonstrated. Due to the potential impacts of climate change on the environment as a result of increasing concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, the world community established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The responsibility of IPCC is to undertake an assessment of the science, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation options in relation to climate change and advise the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). At the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) in Marrakech, Morocco, limits were placed on the nature of activities that could be undertaken and the amount of carbon credits that could be generated through land use change and forestry activities to benefit from PES. These limits excluded all activities associated with management of natural forests and agricultural lands. This review argues that a demonstration of sustainability of carbon sinks in agricultural soils under empirically derived predictable management practices could serve as a basis for arguing the case for inclusion of carbon sinks in such systems in payments for environmental services under the Clean Development (CDM) of Kyoto Protocol.

Keywords: Environmental Economics and Policy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004
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