What is the "4 per 1000" Initiative?

The international initiative "4 per 1000", launched by France on 1 December 2015 at the COP 21, consists of federating all voluntary stakeholders  of the public and private sectors (national governments, local and regional governments, companies, trade organisations, NGOs, research facilities, etc.) under the framework of the Lima-Paris Action Plan (LPAP).

The aim of the initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned.

Supported by solid scientific documentation, this initiative invites all partners to state or implement some practical actions on soil carbon storage and the type of practices to achieve this (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, landscape management, etc.).

The ambition of the initiative is to encourage stakeholders to transition towards a productive, highly resilient agriculture, based on the appropriate management of lands and soils, creating jobs and incomes hence ensuring sustainable development. The Executive Secretariat of the "4 per 1000" initiative is hosted by the CGIAR System Organization, an international organization based in Montpellier.

Why do we speak of "4 per 1000"?

An annual growth rate of 0.4% in the soil carbon stocks, or 4‰ per year, would halt the increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities.

This growth rate is not a normative target for each country, but is intended to show that even a small increase in the soil carbon stock (agricultural soils, notably grasslands and pastures, and forest soils) is crucial to improve soil fertility and agricultural production and to contribute to achieving the long-term objective of limiting the temperature increase to the +2°C threshold, beyond which the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indicates that the effects of climate change are significant.

The "4 per 1000” initiative is intended to complement those necessary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, globally and generally in the economy as a whole. It is voluntary; it is up to each member to define how they want to contribute to the goals.

Agriculture as a way to fight against climate change

"4 per 1000”: soils for food security and climate

Human activities emit enormous amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, which enhances the greenhouse effect and accelerates climate changes.

Every year, 30% of this carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by plants thanks to the   photosynthesis process. Then, when those plants die and decompose, the living organisms of the soil, such as bacteria, fungi or earthworms, transform them into organic matter. This carbon-rich organic material is essential for human nutrition because it retains water,   nitrogen and phosphorus, essential for growing plants.

Global soils contain 2 to 3 times more carbon than the atmosphere.

If this carbon level was increased by 0.4%, or 4‰ per year, in the top 30-40 cm of soils, the annual increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere would be stopped.

This is what the 4 per 1000 Initiative proposes, soils for food security and climate.

The increase in the amount of carbon in soil contributes to:

  • not only stabilise the climate
  • but also to ensure food security, i.e. to provide food in sufficient quantity

How to do it?

Policy measures need to be put in place to:

  • Reduce deforestation
  • Encourage agro-ecological practices that increase the quantity of organic matter in soils and meet the 4 ‰ target per year.

For example:

  • Do not leave bare soil and work it less to limit carbon losses.

In fact, the more you cover the soil, the more the soil becomes rich in organic matter and thus in carbon.

  • Nourish the soils with manure and compost
  • Restore crops, pastures, and degraded forests and the arid and semi-arid areas of our planet
  • Plant trees and legumes, for example (which also fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in the soil, favouring the foliar growth of plants)
  • Collect water at the foot of plants

Who is concerned?

There are 570 million farms in the world and more than 3 billion people living in rural areas could implement these practices.

At what cost?

Restoring agricultural soils would cost tens of dollars per hectare...

Agroforestry and forest restoration would require some important investments.

And for how long?

The carbon accumulation in soils would continue 20 to 30 years after the implementation of good practices, if they are maintained.

A priority: agricultural soils to ensure food security

One simple observation of fact:

  • Soil degradation poses a threat to more than 40% of the Earth’s land surfaces and climate
  • disruption is accelerating the process.
  • This has disastrous consequences for food security and family farmers.

Our capacity to feed 9.8 billion people in 2050 in a context of climate change will depend in particular on our ability to keep our soils alive

The health of soils, for which sufficient organic matter is the main indicator, is closely correlated with agricultural production. Stable and productive soils directly foster the resilience of farms to cope with the effects of disruption in the climate.

Organic matter in soils

Primarily composed of carbon, the organic matter in soils plays a role in four important ecosystem services:

  • resistance to soil erosion, 
  • soil water retention, 
  • soil fertility for plants and 
  • soil biodiversity.

Even small changes in the soil carbon pool have large-scale effects both on agricultural productivity and on greenhouse gas balance.

Maintaining organic carbon-rich soils, restoring and improving degraded agricultural lands and, more generally, increasing soil carbon, play an important role in addressing the three-fold challenge of food security, adaptation of food systems and people to climate change, and mitigation of anthropogenic emissions.

To achieve this, there are three important aims:

  • Combat land degradation

Land degradation threatens more than 40% of the emerged land area and climate change is accelerating this process. Land degradation has negative effects on food security and family farming.

  • Participate in goal of food security

Our ability to feed 9.8 billion humans in 2050 in a climate change context will depend on our skills to keep soils alive. Agricultural production is directly correlated with soil health, the main indicator of which is the level of organic matter. Productive and stable soils directly support the resilience of agriculture to climate changes.

  • Adapt agriculture to climate changes

Soils rich in organic matter and by consequence in carbon are better suited to withstand the impact of climate changes because they are more resistant to erosion and retain water a lot better, especially during extreme events such as droughts.

Some practical solutions exist:

The "4 per 1000 " initiative shows that agriculture can provide some practical solutions to the challenge posed by climate changes, while at the same time highlighting the challenge of food security through the implementation of agricultural practices adapted to local conditions such as: agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, landscape management ...

An ambition

The "4 per 1000" Initiative

The "4 per 1000" initiative intends to increase soil organic matter and carbon sequestration through the implementation of agricultural practices adapted to local environmental, social and economic conditions, such as agro-ecology, agro-forestry, conservation agriculture or landscape management.  

  • The initiative commits stakeholders to transition towards productive and highly resilient agriculture, based on the appropriate management of lands and soils, creating jobs and incomes and consequently promoting sustainable development.
  • This initiative is part of the Global Climate Action Plan (GCAA) adopted by the UNFCCC at COP 22 as a follow-up to the COP 21 Lima-Paris Plan of Action and contributes to the goal of reaching a land-degradation neutral world.
  • Stakeholders will be able to ensure that as many agricultural soil types as possible benefit from practices that maintain or improve their carbon content or preserve carbon-rich soils. Each participant can commit to a goal; one or more types of actions (from soil carbon stock management to other accompanying measures such as index insurance, payments for ecosystem services, etc.), a timetable and dedicated resources.
  • The initiative must send a strong signal to the agricultural sector regarding their potential to participate in the long-term goal of carbon neutrality in global economies.

Understanding the "4 per 1000" in 3'30

Video

Source INRA, IRD, CIRAD and CGIAR spring 2015

The "4 per 1000" at a glance

Financing partners