Monitoring, reporting and verification of soil carbon and greenhouse gases balance






May 12 2022


Sep 27 2022



This topic supports the implementation of key actions of the European Commission Communication on sustainable carbon cycles and carbon farming[1] and the upcoming regulatory framework on carbon removals certification[2].

Project results should contribute to all of the following outcomes:

  • The relationships between carbon flux dynamics of typical carbon farming practices and its driving factors (ecophysiology of ecosystems) as well as the impact of climate change on soil organic carbon (and as a consequence on soil fertility and food production) are better understood.
  • The development of standards to track payment systems for carbon farming and, of methods to consider the maintenance of carbon already stored in soils in carbon farming schemes is enhanced.
  • Reduced administrative and financial burden associated with carbon farming management practices.
  • Increased stakeholder faith and robustness of standards in voluntary (or other) carbon markets, leading to increased potential for revenue opportunities.

The success of carbon farming in Europe will be judged on the quantity and longevity of the sequestration of carbon in plants and soils (by enhancing carbon capture and/or reducing the release of carbon to the atmosphere). To upscale carbon farming successfully, and to establish long-term business perspectives, it will be essential to standardise methodologies and rules for monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) the gains or losses in the carbon sequestered. Currently, private schemes apply very different benchmarks and rules to the carbon credits placed on the voluntary markets. Without a high degree of transparency, environmental integrity, and methodology standardisation buyers will be hesitant about the quality of the offered carbon farming credits. Furthermore, land managers will find it difficult to estimate their potential revenues and policy makers will be reluctant to allow the use of such credits for compliance in the regulatory framework. In consequence, it will be challenging to develop a successful market.

Carbon accumulation and storage in soil and biomass is the result of the interaction of several biotic and abiotic factors. The development and use of biogeochemical models permits a better scientific understanding of soil response to specific or alternative management decisions, together with the impact of climatic variations.

It would be important to carry out complete balances of greenhouse gases (GHG), not only CO2, to verify that the increase in carbon storage or the decrease in CO2 emissions are not offset by an increase in emissions of other GHG (N2O for example). Interdependence of biogeochemical cycles should be considered, at minimum the coupling of C and N cycles.

Proposals should address various (as many as possible) types of the following land cover or land uses, particularly agricultural lands, in the EU and Associated Countries: agricultural croplands (both conventional and organic), grasslands and pasture land (both intensive, organic and semi-natural/low inputs rangelands), agroforestry and regenerative managed land, and paludiculture; forest lands (including afforested and deforested land); historical (drained, exploited) peatlands; managed wetlands; peri-urban areas subject to conversion.

Proposals should therefore look to a range (as wide as possible) of climatic/biogeographical regions in the EU and Associated Countries. Proposals should favour a landscape approach to their framing and analysis. In addition, proposals should address the largest geographical area possible.

Proposed activities should:

  • Refine and develop procedures for, and execute, direct on-field measurements and estimation of carbon and GHG accumulation and fluxes exchange in soil and biomass, reflecting the specificities of the different ecosystems, climates and land uses. Special attention should be drawn to the integration of existing databases, the application of digital technologies (including Artificial Intelligence) and the combination of remote sensing with in-situ monitoring. Links to the EU Soil Observatory (by incorporating the data from on-field measurements), the LUCAS Soil module and the European-wide Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) GHG standardised data[3] should be considered.
  • Develop (biogeochemical) process models[4] incorporating new and diverse data streams (e.g. on nutrient cycles, from earth observation systems, drones and precision agriculture) to provide higher temporal and spatial resolution on the biological, chemical and physical drivers of fluxes, accumulation and storage of soil organic carbon and matter.
  • At a landscape level, assess the effect of, and the soil’s capacity for, the implementation of different carbon-capture practices on land (e.g. subsoil carbon storage). Results should be geographically explicit (at sub-landscape, e.g. farm holding level), for example, on (short-term) carbon accumulation, as well as on its vulnerability related to natural and human disturbances, for the landscape object (land use or land cover) subject to the research work.
  • Develop, standardise and demonstrate methodologies and rules for cost-effective monitoring, reporting and verifying the gains or losses in carbon sequestered in soil and through carbon farming at sub-landscape (e.g., farm holding level). Indicators should include soil carbon stability and permanence considerations.
  • Assess the economic and social impacts of carbon farming on the local (landscape level) rural economy. Identify effective means for ensuring access to financial support (incl. small-scale and remote farmers, gender considerations, etc.). Provide information on which management options are economically viable and have optimal potential for soil organic carbon formation. Results could lead to decision-supporting tools for policy makers and land managers, to support participative policy design and impact for carbon accumulation as well as to better quantify the effects of climate change on soil organic carbon (and possibly on soil fertility).

All activities should include or take into account the impacts of climate change, whenever relevant.

In carrying out the tasks, consortia should:

  • Build on existing studies for carbon farming, in particular those carried out under contract by the European Commission, such as the recently published “Technical Guidance Handbook – setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU"[5];
  • Take into account and build on relevant previous initiatives on soil carbon monitoring (e.g. ESA World Soils[6], Joint Research Centre’s SEPLA (Satellite based mapping and monitoring of European peatland and wetland for LULUCF and agriculture) project[7]) and EU projects (e.g. EJP Soil[8], ClieNFarms[9], HOLISOILS[10] and other relevant projects including under LIFE).
  • Establish contact with complementary initiatives to develop integrated soil monitoring systems (e.g. EU Soil Observatory, Member States);

Proposals should include dedicated tasks and appropriate resources for coordination measures and foresee joint activities with the projects selected under HORIZON-MISS-2021-SOIL-02-05 (Incentives and business models for soil health), HORIZON-MISS-2022-SOIL-01-06 (Network on carbon farming for agricultural and forest soils).

Proposals should demonstrate a route towards open access, longevity, sustainability and interoperability of knowledge and outputs through close collaboration with the EU Soil Observatory.

Cross-cutting Priorities:

Social sciences and humanities
Social Innovation
Artificial Intelligence
Societal Engagement
Digital Agenda

[1] COM(2021) 800 final, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52021DC0800.

[2] The Commission will propose an EU regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals by end of 2022; see https://europa.eu/!W3JmfU.

[3] https://www.icos-cp.eu/

[4] Generally referred to as Tier 3 in IPCC literature.

[5] https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/10acfd66-a740-11eb-9585-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

[6] https://www.world-soils.com/

[7] The first interim report should be published in April 2022.

[8] https://ejpsoil.eu/

[9] https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/101036822

[10] http://holisoils.eu