As far as French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie is concerned, an EU framework for remunerating carbon farming should be modelled after France’s existing voluntary scheme.
Denormandie used the opportunity of an informal agriculture ministers’ meeting that he hosted in Strasbourg at the beginning of February to present the French system of carbon credits to his European counterparts.
The ministers visited a dairy farm that already uses the system and heard from those involved on how the certification works in practice.
Carbon farming refers to agricultural practices geared towards capturing carbon from the atmosphere in the soil. While the European Commission is working on a proposal for an EU-wide legislative framework for certifying and remunerating such practices, France has made the issue a priority for its current presidency in the EU Council of ministers.
Denormandie has repeatedly pointed to France’s “already functional” system when questions arise on putting an EU-wide carbon certification system into practice.
“France has regularly been a forerunner on this issue, which it has been active on for many years now”, he said at the sidelines of the meeting.
France’s carbon farming policy is part of its low carbon labelling system for the broader economy, which the ministry for the ecological transition introduced in 2018 to help reach national emission targets.
The voluntary system allows companies and other organizations to keep track of their carbon footprint, trade carbon credits, and advertise how they are doing in terms of emissions.
Carbon certificates as additional revenue
Apart from reducing their emissions, participants can also buy negative emissions from producers of carbon sinks – including farmers who implement carbon farming practices.
Large French companies are among those who participate in the system, including banks, fashion labels, and major supermarket chains. The agriculture ministry will also offset all of its emissions by buying carbon credits through the system, Denormandie announced after the meeting in Strasbourg.
On the other hand, farmers are awarded the negative emission credits they can sell based on a five-year process, during which a dedicated certifying organization works with the farmer.
This includes support for the farmer on identifying suitable carbon farming practices and regular monitoring of the implementation and effectiveness of the measures.
“Together with farmers and farmers unions, we develop regional projects and thus integrate farmers into the process”, a representative of France Carbon Agri, the organization conducting the certification process, explained.
“In a next step, we quantify the carbon reduction and have it verified by an external auditor so that it can then be sold on the voluntary carbon market”, he added.
From the perspective of Denormandie, the system avoids placing too much of an administrative burden on farmers – a concern that is often voiced when it comes to carbon certificates.
Effective climate action?
Speaking to journalists during the visit to a participating farm, the minister stressed that it was a young farmer leading a small operation profiting from the system. “You can see that it is absolutely possible to get the funds even if you are not a big farm”, he said.
The French system offers additional financial support to young farmers, who can get the entirety of their investments in carbon farming practices refunded.
“At the end of the day, it is not about putting in place additional, obligatory rules; it is about offering additional sources of income to the farming sector,” Denormandie said.
However, not everyone agrees with this approach.
Environmental campaigners have criticized that a system of carbon offsets is not well suited to delivering climate benefits and could undermine efforts to reduce emissions.
“We urge the Commission and the member states to consider better incentive schemes, utilizing public and private funds”, Célia Nyssens, a senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, told EURACTIV.
The French system of carbon certification, she added, was “too focused on efficiency improvements, ignoring other environmental dimensions”. Instead, she concluded that a practical certification framework would need to set robust rules on what counts as a ton of carbon sequestered.