A panel discussion on the opportunities of carbon farming was held this week (Tuesday, February 1, 2022) in the European Parliament and hosted by Fine Gael MEP for the Midlands North West, Colm Markey.

Speaking at the event, head of unit, DG Climate Action at the European Commission, Christian Holzleitner, said that submitted Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans by member states indicate that interest in having carbon farming schemes is increasing.

Despite the idea behind a carbon farming system being “simple” – for each tonne of additionally sequestered carbon, a certain price can be obtained – he said “we still need to learn a lot to make this a successful market and a business”.

Carbon credit system

Research officer at Teagasc, Gary Lanigan, said that to establish a credible trading system and increase value, robust measurements, to a great extent, are vital and carbon sequestration needs to be monitored over a number of years.

A floor price for carbon is also needed to incentivise trading of carbon credits with afforestation and the rewetting of peat soils being the primary actors in term of land use in Ireland, Lanigan added.

However, Holzleitner said that monitoring needs to be tackled first in Europe before different business models can be established.

There are many potential business models on how additional income can be gained including the potential sale of carbon credits outside the agri-food sector, e.g. to airlines and other big emitters, according to Holzleitner.

The European Commission seeks to provide a clear definition of carbon farming, while a public consultation will start soon and a framework for certification of carbon removals is aimed to be made available by the end of 2022, Holzleitner added.

Agricultural sector

MEP Markey said a trading system could remain within the agricultural sector to reduce its own emissions, while alternatively, it could be traded to other sectors, like aviation or construction, to make them carbon neutral as well.

Director of agriculture and sustainability at Devenish, John Gilliland, said there is a concern that farmers’ carbon does not belong to them, thus it needs to be ensured that food processors do not hold market power in the carbon system over farmers.

“If they change their behaviour positively they should have ownership. Likewise, if they do something to the detriment, they will have to pay the price for it. That’s the flipside of owning your carbon,” Gilliland added.

Focus needs to be on how carbon can be measured, reported and validated to a standard that ensures that carbon sequestered on farmland in Ireland is credible, according to Gilliland.

The Devenish director also raised concern regarding the agricultural sector not being recognised if carbon credits are sold to aviation.

In a credible trading system this would be double counting, which means that the same amount of carbon dioxide reduction is counted twice in different sectors, he explained.

Gilliland added:

“As a farmer first and foremost, I would like us farmers to get our own house in order and then if we create a surplus, then see what the rest of society needs.”

Balancing the trade of carbon credits in and outside the food sector could be “quite difficult”, commented Lanigan. An EU-wide or state-run scheme for the sector would be the best to “get things started” and then this could be extended to the private sector, he added.