Carbon Farming: The opportunities and risks for European agroforestry and agroecology

Carbon farming is championed as one of the most promising solutions to drop Europe’s net emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It is also seen by many as an opportune framework to support and promote agroforestry considering the carbon-sequestration benefits of growing trees on agricultural land. A focus on agroforestry could return trees to agricultural landscapes, increase the diversity of habitats, diversify the types and numbers of species grown on a single farm, enhance the health of animals and extensively managed livestock, increase mixed crop-livestock systems, decrease inputs and store carbon—all deeply agroecological solutions. 

On the other hand, many risks arise from the carbon market including its volatility which offers unclear payment schemes for farmers, does not guarantee long-term sequestration, and risks to dampen mandated efforts and genuine climate action, amongst others. 

The Horizon 2020 project AGROMIX took the opportunity to take part in the discussion that is happening within the European Union’s governance structures by inviting a variety of stakeholders including Parliament members, the Commission, local governance, civil society representatives, farmers, scientists and academics to discuss the risks and opportunities of the upcoming legislations on carbon farming. The goal of the workshop was to facilitate an exchange to determine policy options and scenarios that benefit all those involved in the food system. The discussion aimed to determine whether carbon farming can truly deliver on climate objectives and what agroecological carbon farming would look like.


  1. Develop and increase access to independent, climate and environmentally focused advisory services, including specific to young farmers.  
  2. Implement protections for access to land and ensure that carbon farming does not negatively impact land tenure, or create land concentration and land grabbing. 
  3. Channel public money into public goods. 
  4. Focus of all future environmental policies on emission reduction. Carbon removals should only be paired with emission reductions, thus, offsetting must never be an option for private or public entities. 
  5. Renumerate farmers and land managers for their stewardship, including restoration of climate, biodiversity and resilience on the land, not just with a narrow focus for carbon. 
  6. Only allow carbon farming practices that have proven long-term removals as many forms of farming presented as potential carbon farming are susceptible to reversibility. 
  7. Any carbon legislation should not act in a silo and should follow other European legislations and their goals, including the European Green Deal. 
  8. Any certification mechanism needs to be individually governed to ensure transparency in monitoring, evaluation and reporting. 
  9. Any carbon policy—and farming policy—must leave no one behind, therefore local communities, foresters, small-scale farmers and other relevant stakeholders should be consulted before any project is implemented.

The Way Forward 

Carbon in our soil is vitally important. However, it is only one segment of an infinitely complex picture. It should not become the single focus of environmental and climate policy initiatives or Europe will miss a key opportunity to address the climate and biodiversity crises: through a systemic understanding and approach. If ecosystems are restored, carbon will also increase.

The policy ambition to create a standard, verifiable accounting framework, stabilise carbon markets, and compensate farmers for ecosystem and climate services is welcome, but the social aspects of any farming legislation must leave no one behind. For the moment, the Commission has failed to consider renumeration for farmers, small and medium enterprises and regenerative pioneers who have made great strides already and now struggle to do more. Public funds should support a systemic and just transition towards agroecology, instead of channelling yet more money into big, industrial farms. 

Carbon farming by itself will not provide benefits for either land managers or the climate. Rather, the path to climate and biodiversity objectives is paved by people devoted to healthy and sustainable food.

Download the Policy Factsheet - Carbon Farming: The Opportunities and Risks for European Agroforestry and Agroecology

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