France Considers Sequestering Carbon in Farmlands

PARIS, France, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - French Environment Minister Roselyne Bachelot says that carbon sequestration in agricultural lands could be used as part of a national program to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement followed release of an official report concluding that up to two percent of French carbon dioxide emissions could be stored underground, helping France meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment to maintain emissions below 1990 levels.


French Environment Minister Roselyne Bachelot
(Photo courtesy National Assembly of France)
In its report for the Ministry for Ecology and Sustainable Development, France's National Institute of the Agronomic Research (INRA) suggests that between one and five million metric tons of carbon annually could be stored in the ground over the next 20 years.

The Kyoto Protocol, which could come into effect in 2003, requires that France reduce its emission of six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, by eight percent compared to a 1990 within the first five year commitment period 2008 to 2012.

This method of carbon sequestration could make a key contribution to France's climate change strategy, as it was by no means certain that the country would be able to meet its Kyoto target, INRA said.

By synthesizing organic matter from CO2 which they take from the atmosphere, plants can stores carbon in organic form, INRA explained in a statement Wednesday. A significant fraction of this biomass and these residues is then incorporated into the ground where it is subjected to various transformations and degradations.

So, while the organic storage of carbon in the ground is always temporary, INRA said it can play an important part in France's climate strategy.


French farmland (Photo credit unknown)
"These carbon stocks in the grounds are significant," INRA said. "On a planetary scale, they represent some 1,500 billion tons, that is to say twice as much as carbon stocks in the atmosphere. Even a tiny increase in storage in the ground could thus play a significant role in the limitation of the net flow greenhouse gases into the atmosphere."

Still, INRA warned of major uncertainties over the success of the carbon sequestration technology. As well as requiring major changes in current land use and agricultural practices, it does not offer a long term solution to dealing with increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the agency said.

In November 2002, the nongovernmental organization Rac-F, claimed that the measures in place under France's existing climate strategy correspond to "less than 10 percent of the emission cuts required."

Similar uncertainty over the French strategy was voiced last year by the national climate change commission.

Launched at the start of 2000, France's strategy was based on a comprehensive energy tax that has since been dropped. A review of the strategy will form part of a work program aimed at developing a broad five year sustainable development strategy by this spring, said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.


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