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COP21 & the “4/1000” Initiative

Posted by on Dec 16, 2015 in News, The Hummingbird Project | Comments Off on COP21 & the “4/1000” Initiative

As we think back on the two weeks we spent in Paris and reflect on the outcomes of The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, we feel that the message that needs to be shared is, overwhelmingly, one of hope and optimism.

 

Let us be clear – we aren’t just talking about the official agreement reached on December 12th. That was, of course, a tremendous (if imperfect) stride in the right direction. We are talking about ALL of the initiatives to have come out of Paris, many of which were formed outside COP21’s “Blue Zone.” Of particular significance is the “4/1000” Initiative, designed to increase the storage of carbon in soil.

It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the challenge we are facing. But Paris was a turning point, and there are reasons for hope. Many reasons. Good reasons. So let’s run through a few of them, and take a moment to celebrate.

 

The Climate Ribbon Project

 

The Official Agreement

 

The official agreement isn’t perfect, and that should not come as a huge surprise. As Rhea Suh put it, “If we could end climate change with a piece of paper, we would’ve done it a long time ago. This crisis has been in the making since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution nearly three centuries ago. We won’t fix it overnight. The expectation was progress, not perfection.” And in that respect, Paris delivered. Big time. Before the conference took place the Natural Resources Defense Council laid out, in basic terms, the best and worst case outcomes for COP21. And much of what they were hoping for can be seen in the final agreement. “A wave of good feeling and cooperation” helped world leaders realize that they need to improve upon current INDCs. Five year reviews cycles were established. And while the agreement isn’t legally binding, that was done for a very specific reason – to avoid the agreement landing on the steps of the U.S. Senate, where it would have been DOA.

The agreement also sends “a clear signal to markets and investors that the future of energy is in renewables like wind and solar.” Or, in other words, “the transformation of our global economy from one fueled by dirty energy to one fueled by sustainable economic growth is now firmly and inevitably underway.”

Ultimately, the framework agreed to by 195 nations provides hope and a path forward for humanity. And that is something to be very, very grateful for.

 

Outside Initiatives

 

“While national-level action is essential; it’s also not enough on its own. Which is why all the initiatives announced in Paris to give cities, companies, and private citizens a bigger role in speeding up the transition were, frankly, so exciting.” It was refreshing and thrilling to see some of the world’s most powerful corporate leaders join with “small islands and poor countries that are most vulnerable to climate change” in pushing to limit warming to 1.5°C. And the birth of the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures will create common measuring and reporting systems to allow “investors to accurately value companies that carry climate-related risks.” In other words? Less money will be going to carbon-heavy industries. (Yay!)

Cities got in on the action too, and in a major way. Just one week into the conference – a whole week before the official agreement was reached – 400 cities had signed the Compact of Mayors. This requires them to “set bold climate goals, adopt a common measurement system for emissions, and publicly report their progress.” Since cities are responsible for a huge percentage of global greenhouse-gas emissions, this is a very big deal. In addition, positive actions taken on the city level may help prevent “backsliding by central governments.”

Then there was the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, a partnership established between France and Peru to showcase and strengthen on-the-ground climate action in 2015 and beyond. And “for the first time at a COP conference, agriculture had its own dedicated focus-day.” Initiatives to chart food insecurity and reduce food waste were launched – as was the “4/1000” Initiative.

 

Soil

 

The “4/1000” Initiative

 

Inspired by a plan proposed in March by French agricultural minister Stéphane Le Foll, the “4/1000” Initiative was launched December 1st as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. It states, simply, that if nations can increase the organic matter in the soil by four parts per thousand, that this would be enough to offset all carbon emissions. How does this work? “Carbon is an important component of soil, representing 58% of organic matter. Through photosynthesis, a plant draws down atmospheric carbon to form carbon compounds, or sugars. Some of this is exuded through the roots to feed soil microorganisms.” So while excessive amounts of carbon in our air and our oceans have negative consequences (ocean acidification, anyone?) large amounts of carbon in the soil just make the soil healthier, more drought-resistant, and more capable of producing nutrient-rich food. It’s an all-around win.

Unfortunately, industrial agricultural practices expose and degrade soils, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. “4/1000” addresses this as well, highlighting the positive potential of regenerative agriculture and the role it can play in taking greenhouse gases out of the sky and storing them in the soil. The methods regenerative agriculture utilizes are simple; cover crops, compost, crop rotation, and reduced tilling are its main tenets. Rotational grazing practices help too. They are easy technologies, and their potential is enormous. “Ohio State University scientist Rattan Lal refers to soil restoration as ‘low hanging fruit’ and says it can serve as a ‘bridge’ to climate safety during the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy.”

Ultimately, the “French-led plan promotes practices, adapted to local conditions, that shift agricultural soil from a carbon source to a carbon sink.” “It’s a game-changer,” said Andre Leu, who signed on behalf of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). “I’ve been engaged with climate negotiations since Copenhagen, and until now we couldn’t even get the world agriculture in the agreements.”

The initiative was signed by 25 countries, including France, Germany, Mexico, Australia, and the UK, as well as by 75 research and NGO partners.

 

What Next?

 

One of the most enduring images to come out of the Paris talks were the shoes that took the place of the marchers at Place de la Republique, due to restrictions put in place after the November 13th terrorist attacks.

For us, this image is a metaphor for the larger agreement. The framework agreed to by almost all the nations of the world are like those empty shoes. All that is needed now is for people across the globe to step into those shoes and take the actions needed to ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

This agreement is not the end. It is the start. It is a roadmap for the transition to a planet capable of sustaining all of its inhabitants. There is much hard work to be done and we can only get there if we continue to focus on positive solutions, do our part … and never let our world leaders forget their promises.

 

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