Around the world there is growing understanding of, and interest in, the potential role of soil carbon sequestration in achieving Net Zero. This, alongside an appreciation of the numerous ecosystem benefits that increased soil carbon can deliver, has led to the establishment of a soil carbon market-place whereby farmers are being paid to adopt practices and land use changes that sequester carbon into their soil.
For UK farmers, this market-place can be a potentially significant source of private sector investment. Agricultural land covers 17.7 million hectares in the UK and conservative estimates put the sequestration potential of this land at between 1-2 t CO2e ha-1 per year.
Carbon offsets are currently retailing at between £10-£20 in the voluntary market - and the trend for rising prices showing no signs of abating. Several regional ecosystem markets (e.g. Landscape Enterprise Networks) are already operating in the UK and encouraging farm-scale interventions that enhance soil carbon.
The potential is there for the UK's farmland to absorb private investment in the region of £200M - £750M per year for carbon sequestration alone. However, for this potential to be unlocked, a shared vision and understanding of the critical elements at stake is needed – one that will give both farmers and investors confidence in the integrity of the carbon being bought and sold.
These elements include a better understanding of what practices are likely to work for different soil types and climate conditions, a robust approach to the technical MRV (Measuring, Recording, Verification) of the changes in soil carbon, as well as agreement on principles such as permanence, saturation, additionality, leakage etc.
The key to achieving this integrity lies in the generation and widespread adoption of a carbon standard for UK farms against which projects can be registered and verified. There are currently two carbon markets for UK land use sector namely the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code - however neither enables investment in agricultural soil carbon sequestration.