Finnish scientists are currently researching the potential for agriculture as a mitigating force against climate change through sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and storing it back in the soil. The pilot project connects top research directly with the grassroots level work practiced on farms.

The joint project of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Baltic Sea Action Group, and Sitra develops and explores ways to accelerate carbon storage, to verify the results scientifically, and to introduce climate-friendly farming practices to Finnish farms. Soil management holds the key to solving the biggest nutrient emissions into the Baltic Sea.

“There is more carbon stored in the organic matter in soil than in the atmosphere and all the plants combined. A significant amount of soil carbon is in the topmost surface layer, the area directly affected by farming, pasture, and forestry”, says Jari Liski, Professor of Research at the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

“The current calculations by the Climate Panel IPCC on the agricultural potential of storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are based on prevailing agricultural practices. We aim to discover what that potential would be if we had ways to enhance and verify carbon storage in soil and to actively implement the required actions on a large scale”, Professor Liski continues.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute leads the project’s scientific research on the movement and storage of carbon in the soil through, for example, microbiology, isotopic analyses, atmospheric measurements, and mathematical modeling. In addition, the Finnish Meteorological Institute examines the impact of different agricultural practices on the acceleration of carbon sequestration.

The Baltic Sea Is the First to Benefit

The Baltic Sea Action Group, BSAG, directs the project and also concentrates on cooperation with farmers in order to develop and implement carbon-storing agricultural practices.

“The problems of the Baltic Sea and the climate are intertwined, but, fortunately, the same applies to the solutions,” says Saara Kankaanrinta, the chair of both the Carbon Action project’s advisory board and BSAG’s board.

“In the Baltic Sea Action Group, we see soil health as an important solution for minimizing the largest emissions into the Baltic Sea. When we discovered that the same soil-related issues were also being studied by the climate scientists, we thought that we could genuinely combine the strengths of the research and grass root levels in Finland to push the globally significant knowledge and actions forward”, Kankaanrinta says. She is the only Nordic member of the international network of carbon sequestration experts.

“It’s great when everyone in the network is working together to solve a big common problem while, at the same time, we are solving this local problem. The Baltic Sea will be the first to benefit from measures that improve soil health”, Kankaanrinta continues.

“Sitra recognizes the future megatrends and is also participating in and launching related projects. At present, we are investing heavily in circular economy and the sustainable food system. A concrete, research-based pilot provides opportunities for farms to produce more and more sustainably, ” says Hanna Mattila, Sitra’s Circular Economy expert.

At the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 France presented a 4/1000 initiative aimed at increasing the amount of soil carbon by 0.4 per cent annually. According to calculations, this would be sufficient to compensate for the annual CO2 emissions caused by humans.

“Finland has also signed this ambitious initiative. But it is still on an abstract level. We need reliable research data and practical experience before this theme can, for example, be integrated into EU’s common agricultural policy. They are now being produced by the Carbon Action -pilot project”, says Hanna Mattila.

The goal of the two-year project is to also secure the future funding of further research and implementation activities, as well as to carry on with the important long-term studies.

“The holistic approach has already been internationally commended even though we started with a rather unusual project plan. We thank Sitra for their courageous decision to kick start the funding of such an important project”, Saara Kankaanrinta says.