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International Policy

IBI's work with international policy focuses mainly on working within the UNFCCC process to include biochar as a tool in the post-Kyoto climate agreement. For a full explaination of how and where biochar fits into the UNFCCC as well as countries and organizations working to include biochar, please see the UNFCCC Negotiations and the Potential Role for Biochar Document.

January 2011: IBI Update on UNFCCC Negotiations and the Potential Role for Biochar

The potential inclusion of biochar as a climate mitigation and adaptation technology within the UNFCCC remains uncertain, but there is continued reason for optimism among biochar’s many proponents. Continued significant progress in the biochar field, coupled with mounting efforts to incorporate agricultural mitigation and adaptation opportunities within the UNFCCC negotiations, provide promise that biochar as a soil amendment will one day be recognized as a climate mitigation and adaptation technology. 

This update on the UNFCCC process through the COP16 Cancun negotiations will address the current state of the Framework Convention with regards to agriculture, and by extension, opportunities for biochar, as well. It should be noted that, while previous draft language on agricultural sector mitigation opportunities within the Framework referenced the potential for biochar, no mention of biochar is included in current text being deliberated. However, mounting pressure to address global food security issues concurrent with climate mitigation and adaptation have highlighted the need to address terrestrial and biological carbon mitigation opportunities, particularly those within the forestry and agricultural sectors. Food security will be challenged by global population growth, and is likely to be further complicated by increased warming and the resulting impacts to water availability, crop and livestock productivity, and changing disease vectors and patterns.  ecognition of these challenges likely will lead to increased investments and a renewed focus on tools and technologies to enhance agricultural adaptation and the resilience of soils, in particular.  Biochar is uniquely positioned to aid in these critical overlapping arenas by building soil carbon sinks and mitigating climate change while also enhancing soil quality and resilience to drought and certain diseases, as well. 

Finally, the potential for a work program on agricultural sector mitigation to be taken up by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) as early as June, 2011 holds the most promise for establishing a clear role for biochar. SBSTA, which counsels the Conference of the Parties on matters of climate, the environment, technology, and methods, meets twice a year. It will be critical that SBSTA incorporate biochar as a mitigation technology within that work program as the most likely and near-term means for biochar recognition within the Convention. 

Click here for the full document as a PDF.

December 2010: Report on COP 16 in Cancun

IBI held an official UNFCCC side event in Cancun, Mexico as part of the UNFCCC COP16 deliberations. The side event was moderated by Sergio Zelay-Bonilla of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and speakers included Debbie Reed, IBI Executive Director; Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University and IBI Board Chairman; and Thea Whitman, also of Cornell University. IBI’s side event was held Friday evening, December 3, 2010 in the Cancun Messe, on the eve of Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD), an all-day event held on Saturday, December 4, 2010. The IBI Side event covered policy, scientific, and demonstration applications related to biochar, and addressed some contemporary issues related to biochar and reflected in the continued progress of agricultural sector mitigation and adaptation opportunities within the context of the UNFCCC, and also discussed at ARDD. To read the remainder of the report and see copies of presentations, please see: http://www.biochar-international.org/cancunsideevent.

November 2010 Update on COP 16: IBI will host side event

Once again, IBI will have a presence at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as we work to continue to highlight the potential role of sustainable biochar systems in combating climate change and benefiting the health and productivity of the world’s soils.  IBI’s Executive Director Debbie Reed will be joined by leading biochar experts in a side event on biochar (see below for further details), and will also be participating on behalf of IBI at Agriculture and Rural Development Day, on Saturday, December 4, 2010 in Cancun (see link for further information: http://www.agricultureday.org/). 

IBI UNFCCC COP16 Side Event: Biochar’s mitigation potential for global agricultural systems and soil benefits: crediting approaches

Panelists:

  • Debbie Reed, Executive Director, International Biochar Initiative
  • Johannes Lehmann, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
  • Thea Whitman, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University

Debbie Reed (International Biochar Initiative) will discuss how biochar may be credited under different crediting mechanisms, and present a proposal for a robust methodology for quantification of biochar emission reductions and the development of stringent evaluation guidelines to enable crediting of biochar systems. Johannes Lehmann (Cornell University) will propose tools to measure biochar stability, review the role that soil improvement plays for soil biochar sequestration, and provide recent evidence from field experimentation. Thea Whitman (Cornell University) will present a detailed study of how the introduction of a biochar-producing cook stove into a small farm household in western Kenya would impact carbon stocks and flows within the system. Field data, system dynamics modeling and sensitivity analyses are used to investigate effects on soil organic carbon, crop growth, and stove GHG emissions.

Side event Information:

Date:  Friday, December 3, 2010
Time:  20:15-21:45 (8:15-9:45 pm local time)
Room:   Cacao (seating capacity of 300 persons)
Venue:  Cancun Messe

September 2009 Update on Biochar in the UNFCCC Negotiations

In the run-up to the 7-18 December negotiations in Copenhagen, delegates to the UNFCCC have been struggling to reduce the number of decisions and pages of text under consideration. After the mid-August 2009 meetings in Bonn, considerable consolidation of many parts of the negotiating text had occurred, with more scheduled for the 28 September to 9 October negotiations slated for Bangkok. Since leaving Bonn, the UNFCCC Secretariat has been hard at work to reduce the text from hundreds of pages to 20 or 30 pages.

The new AWG-LCA text produced by the Secretariat in advance of the Bangkok negotiations, released 15 September 2009, achieves additional consolidation and reorganization. Unfortunately, biochar is no longer specifically identified as an example of a  mitigation option within the agricultural sector, although the broader language on sectoral approaches and mitigation options has been retained in an appendix, now removed from the main body of the negotiating text. 

IBI applauds the progress  of the UNFCCC Secretariat and delegates in reorganizing the text and moving the process forward, but urges Parties to recognize that biochar, with it’s potential Gigaton-scale CO2 removal and additional energy security and food security benefits, should not be overlooked in the process. There is a need to fund the remaining R&D and scale-up needs of this critical technology to achieve global deployment of biochar systems. With intensification of agricultural productivity having been identified as a critical means to feed a global population of 9 billion people in 2050, biochar can help to increase  crop productivity while reducing chemical inputs; co-produce energy (thermal, for cooking or on-site use, or otherwise); and significantly reduce GHG emissions.

September 2009 Update: IBI holds Biochar Side Event at UNCCD COP9, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Held on September 24, the side evented entitled: Biochar for sustainable mitigation of environmental degradation in agricultural lands, provided an introduction to issues of sustainable land management and the wider context for the need to address soil health and biomass constraints. The presentations critically evaluated biochar systems to generate multiple value streams for improving livelihoods in degraded and desertified lands and also provided a broad overview and introduction into the opportunities and constraints of the potential of biochar for drylands.

The event began with a presentation by Sergio Zelaya (UNCCD) who discussed the framework for biochar systems with a discussion of sustainable land management, food insecurity, and water scarcity in drylands and introduced a road map for further exploration. Dr. Lehmann (Cornell University) presented  scientific evidence of biochar opportunities, constraints to its application, and future research and development priorities. Finally, Nathaniel Mulcahy (World Stoves) provided a survey of different cookstoves that are being developed at present and highlight an example of a biochar stove system.

August 2009 Update on Biochar in the UNFCCC Negotiations

IBI continued working within the UNFCCC process to support retention of the language on biochar currently included in the draft Copenhagen negotiating text.  IBI’s Executive Director, Debbie Reed, was in Bonn during the 10 to 14 August intersessional informal consultations.  During the meetings, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) continued to discuss draft negotiating text in the lead-up to Copenhagen. 

The biochar text being considered is contained in the AWG-LCA negotiating text, the version of which was being discussed at the Bonn meeting having been introduced on 22 June, 2009 (FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/INF.1.), after the last set of negotiations in Bonn in June. 

While negotiators spent the week consolidating text in an attempt to reduce the negotiating text from 200 pages to 20-30 for Copenhagen, the discussions literally stopped at the paragraph before the biochar text (located on page 132 of the above-linked document, and labeled as paragraph 134).

It is anticipated that the next set of negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand -- scheduled for 28 September through 9 October, 2009 – will pick up with paragraphs 134.  IBI will continue to work to support retention of the text in Bangkok, and through the Copenhagen process. 

June 2009 Update on IBI Activities in Bonn at the UNFCCC Climate Change Talks: New Countries Support Biochar through Written Submissions to the Negotiating Text 

In preparation for the upcoming UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen (December 2009), this week negotiators are meeting in Bonn Germany to discuss negotiating texts and come to consensus before the December international meeting. The Bonn climate talks are the second in a series of five major negotiating sessions ramping up to Copenhagen.  One of the texts under discussion in Bonn is the Negotiating Text for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention (AWG-LCA) which is the first draft text for the Copenhagen agenda to be released for negotiation (see item on biochar on page 36, paragraph 134, under Agriculture). With the support of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) working with IBI and UNCCD countries, biochar was included in the text and brought to the attention of the UNFCCC.

Prior to the Bonn Conference, nearly 20 countries and Parties to the UNFCCC, as well as the UNCCD Secretariat, made submissions to the UNFCCC seeking the inclusion of biochar as a high-potential climate mitigation and adaptation tool. They included Belize, Micronesia, and a Consortium of African governments, including Swaziland, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Since the current Bonn negotiations began, an additional two countries, Australia and Costa Rica, have made written submissions in reference to the draft negotiations text and indicated support for biochar.

Australia, the first developed/Annex 1 country to support biochar in this manner, submitted the following "...A comprehensive and ambitious global outcome of this nature would realistically and necessarily involve: 
1.  comprehensive coverage of gases, sources and sectors, with inclusion of forests (e.g. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation - REDD) and the land sector (including soil carbon initiatives (e.g. biochar) if scientifically demonstrated) in the agreement;" (full text). 

Costa Rica made a submission which includes the biochar text as presented in the draft AWG-LCA text, adding another developing country supporter to the group in favor of biochar inclusion (full text).

IBI Policy Director Debbie Reed is attending the sessions in Bonn, and on June 9 participated in a side event entitled: Targeting Non-CO2 Climate Forcers for Fast Mitigation to Complement CO2 Cuts, presented by Sweden and Micronesia. Ms. Reed discussed biochar and the important role that biochar can play in combating climate change and enhancing the world’s soils, with many positive co-benefits. For more information on the side event, please see: http://www.iisd.ca/climate/sb30/enbots/09.html and http://www.iisd.ca/climate/sb30/enbots/pdf/enbots1268e.pdf.

For more information, please contact Debbie Reed.

May 2009 Update: Biochar Included in Draft Copenhagen Text

In the first release of draft negotiating text for the upcoming Copenhagen meetings in December, the UNFCCC has included biochar in a section entitled:  "Enhanced Action on Mitigation". The just-released text will serve as the basis for negotiations during the pre-Copenhagen meetings in Bonn from June 1 – 12, 2009, and ultimately, for the 1 – 12, 2009 December meeting in Copenhagen.

The IBI credits its cooperative work with the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Desertification (UNCCD) for inclusion of the draft text, which reads:

"Agriculture 134.  Parties shall cooperate in R&D of mitigation technologies for the agriculture sector, recognizing the necessity for international cooperative action to enhance and provide incentives for mitigation of GHG emissions from agriculture, in particular in developing countries. Consideration should be given to the role of soils in carbon sequestration, including through the use of biochar and enhancing carbon sinks in drylands."

The text is included in the Negotiating Text for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the Convention.

IBI Policy Director Debbie Reed hails the support of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) for working with IBI and UNCCD countries to bring biochar to the attention of the UNFCCC. "The UNCCD Secretariat understands the dual role of biochar in combating climate change and land degradation and desertification, and we commend their efforts in working with us to raise the profile of this issue in such a significant manner. We will continue to work together to ensure that biochar is recognized within the Copenhagen Framework and beyond."

To date, at least 13 countries and Parties to the UNFCCC, as well as the UNCCD Secretariat, have made submissions to the UNFCCC seeking the inclusion of biochar as a high-potential climate mitigation and adaptation tool, including in drylands and developing countries with degraded soils and deserts. They include Belize and a Consortium of African governments, including Swaziland, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Additionally, several countries, including Argentina, Senegal, and the UNCCD Secretariat, all spoke favorably of the role of biochar in combating climate change and aiding in adaptation efforts at a 4 April, 2009 UNFCCC Agricultural Workshop held in Bonn, Germany. IBI and UNCCD attended the workshop; the summary of the workshop also recognized biochar.

"The significance of this victory is that it will continue to drive recognition of the role of biochar in combating and adapting to climate change, and result in policies to further support additional research and development of biochar production and utilization systems in the developing and developed country context," said Reed. "We know enough about biochar to know that we must strive to produce sustainable, global biochar systems that enhance the earth's soils while removing carbon from the atmosphere in stable sinks that sequester carbon for thousands of years."

April 2009: IBI Participation in Recent UNFCCC Negotiations in Bonn, Germany

At the most recent UNFCCC Negotiations held March 28 to April 8, 2009, IBI Executive Director Steve Brick and IBI Policy Director Debbie Reed met with Party representatives to urge inclusion of agricultural mitigation practices and technologies in the post-2012 Framework to be negotiated in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. IBI believes that biochar production and mitigation technologies will be a recognized technology within the soil carbon sequestration agenda, if it is incorporated. Parties and negotiators expressed optimism and a high degree of certainty that agricultural mitigation technologies will be adopted as part of the Copenhagen agenda.

Evidence of the role of agricultural mitigation opportunities being included in the post-2012 Framework was reflected in the attention given to this issue during the negotiations. IBI attended the agricultural workshop held on Saturday, April 4 as part of the negotiations, and is pleased to report that representatives from several Parties and Intergovernmental Parties, such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) made statements supporting the inclusion of biochar production and utilization as a potential agricultural mitigation technology to be considered.

The workshop, "Opportunities and Challenges for Mitigation in the Agricultural Sector" was held on Saturday, April 4 for the full plenary. A full set of presentations made by UNFCCC parties, including presentations from the UNFCCC Secretariat, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the US is posted on the UNFCCC website. Of note was support given for biochar as an agricultural sequestration technology to be considered by representatives from Senegal, Argentina, the UNCCD, and others.

UNFCCC summary report from the workshop has been completed and posted on the UNFCCC website. This brief report (4 pages) provides the current state of play related to agricultural mitigation and adaptation options being considered for the post-2012 agenda to be negotiated in Copenhagen in 2012. Important relevant excerpts from the summary include the following:

"Agriculture also has considerable technical mitigation potential (depending on national and regional circumstances), mostly in sequestration of carbon in agricultural soils, followed by methane and nitrous oxide reductions resulting mainly from livestock and rice cultivation. The main drivers mentioned for decreases in GHG emissions were increased land and livestock productivity, conservation tillage and some non-climate policies influencing the agricultural sector. In particular, the increase in agriculture productivity and efficiency was mentioned by several Parties as key to limiting GHG emissions in this sector."

"Significant mitigation potential also exists in developed countries.The agricultural sector is already being considered in Parties' emissions reduction strategies; some have commenced work to include agriculture in carbon trading schemes. One Party mentioned that, as a result of mitigation measures, GHG emissions from the sector decreased while production increased. Other Parties mentioned energy-saving technologies for agricultural machinery, reduction of fertilizer use, prolonged mid-season drainage for rice paddies, providing incentives and rewarding financing schemes for applying good practices."

"On the subject of opportunities, it was mentioned that many mitigation options can be realized at low or even negative cost, resulting in win-win situations. For example, co-benefits may include increasing food security and productivity or enhancing climate change resilience. Presentations highlighted several such opportunities: the production of syngas from solid waste coconut biomass; the use of biochar to fertilize soil; and agronomic practices to reduce water and energy use."

"It was noted that more information and disaggregated data on the regional and national level are still needed in order to improve the assessments of the agricultural sector and the development of reliable national baselines; nevertheless, although these methodologies may be complex, there is enough information to act."

"It was noted that methodologies exist for measuring, reporting and verifying the sources and sinks in this sector."

"Several Parties stressed the importance of including agriculture in the mitigation actions to be enhanced by an agreed outcome in Copenhagen."

The agriculture workshop was preceded by a report (UNFCCC Technical Report 8) titled "Opportunities and Challenges for Mitigation in the Agricultural Sector", and released to parties in November, 2008. This report summarizes the global state of knowledge surrounding agricultural mitigation and adaptation opportunities with regard to greenhouse gases (GHG).

While in Bonn, Brick and Reed also met with staff of the UNCCD to discuss a formal working relationship and joint activities that IBI and UNCCD can pursue over the next 24 months. The meetings included a presentation on biochar by Reed for the UNCCD staff, followed by a productive question and answer period. IBI and UNCCD plan to sign a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the coming months to jointly address the potential role of biochar in reversing land and soil degradation in drylands and desertified areas.

March 2009 Update:  IBI to attend UNFCCC Meetings in Bonn

The first set of three planned negotiating sessions before COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 is being held Sunday 29 March to Wednesday 8 April 2009 in Bonn. IBI Executive Director Steve Brick and IBI Policy Director Debbie Reed will both be in attendance to further promote the consideration of biochar as a potential mitigation and adaptation technology in the post-2012 UNFCCC framework.

There will be several workshops on the issue of land use, land use change, and forestry during this set of negotiations, to allow Parties to focus in on detailed issues relating to terrestrial sequestration and the mitigation potential of soils and forests. In the period since the COP-14 negotiations in Poznan, Poland, several parties and intergovernmental observers have made strong submissions for the consideration of biochar and agricultural soil carbon as mitigation and adaptation technologies for the post-2012 period.

IBI will continue to work with Party representatives, the UNCCD, and other interested parties on outreach and education regarding biochar and soil carbon sequestration opportunities in developing and industrialized countries, to secure a beneficial role for these activities in future UNFCCC frameworks.

February 2009: Update on Progress for Biochar in the UNFCCC Process

Further progress has been made in raising the profile of biochar as a climate change mitigation and adaptation technology within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with the submission of additional papers in support of biochar by parties and observers to the UNFCCC process. This adds to the success in raising the profile of biochar at the UNFCCC Conference in Poland in December, 2008 (COP-14), aimed at ensuring biochar will be considered an accepted climate change mitigation and adaptation technology for the post-2012 treaty to be negotiated in Copenhagen in December, 2009.

February 6 marked a second deadline for submissions by parties to the UNFCCC in support of agenda items for COP-15 in Copenhagen. At the December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen, parties will negotiate a new international response to the climate change threat—basically a follow on to the Kyoto Protocol.  Several submissions were made specific to the inclusion of biochar as a significant mitigation and adaptation tool, and several more were made on behalf of the inclusion of soil carbon sequestration and additional agricultural mitigation options. 

In what IBI hails as great progress for biochar within the UNFCCC process, the parties of Belize and a Consortium of African governments (made by Swaziland on behalf of Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) made submissions specifically about biochar, as did the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The submission by Belize suggested the need to develop global baselines of soil carbon pools, and monitoring systems that will allow soil carbon improvements based on the use of biochar as a soil amendment for mitigation and adaption, under the existing Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and under other mechanisms that may be considered at COP-15. Belize also mentioned and supported the UNCCD submission of 10 December 2008, in support of biochar. It states: “In accordance with the rules of procedure to be applied at COP-15, Belize requests that due to the significant role played by soils in capturing carbon and therefore helping in the realization of the ultimate objective of the convention, carbon pools contained in soils be subject to discussion and placed in the agenda of COP 15 for a decision on the matter.”

The joint submission by the consortium of African governments signaled a desire to include the potential of dryland soils in sequestering carbon, including with the use of biochar. The submission highlighted “the intricate linkages between climate change and frequent and severe droughts, land degradation and desertification,” and its particular impact on developing countries, the poor and vulnerable inhabitants of dryland areas. Placing soil carbon restoration and biochar utilization on the COP-15 agenda are specifically suggested, including the expanded coverage of the CDM to include agricultural land uses. 

The UNCCD, in its second submission in support of biochar, recommends both near-term and medium- to long-term policies in support of the inclusion of soil carbon, especially biochar, under the UNFCCC deliberations in Copenhagen. Also significantly, the UNCCD Secretariat offers “to facilitate discussions on possible approaches on the importance of carbon in soils, particularly Biochar.” It points out, also, that although soil carbon sequestration represents 90% of the mitigation potential of the agricultural sector, it is excluded from the CDM except as it pertains to afforestation and reforestation projects.

Additionally, both the FAO and UNEP have submissions that would potentially support biochar. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) made an in-depth submission on the use of soil carbon sequestration as an scientifically valid and previously recognized mitigation technology which should be further adopted and enabled in the post-2012 process. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also has a submission that supports increased carbon sequestration through improved land use and reduced land degradation.

Poznan Update:  IBI Announces Micronesia Backing for Biochar as Carbon Mitigation and Storage Strategy at the UN Climate Meeting in Poznan, Poland

POZNAN, Poland, December 12, 2008 – The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that Micronesia has filed a submission at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) proceedings underway in Poznan to introduce biochar as a technology for consideration as a “fast-start” strategy to “mitigate climate change in the immediate near-term.” The submission places biochar on the draft agenda to be considered during UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009.

Micronesia’s proposal follows the filing of a submission by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) endorsing biochar earlier this week. The UNCCD, a sister convention to the UNFCCC, identified biochar as a unique opportunity to address soils as a carbon sink, in line with its 10 year strategic program that calls for the promotion of low-carbon footprint sustainable practices and technologies that assist affected countries in the implementation of their National Actions Programs to Combat Desertification and Drought.

IBI Executive Director Debbie Reed said, “This is an incredibly important achievement, since Micronesia, as a UNFCCC country party, has officially positioned biochar as a mitigation technology for adoption even prior to the post-2012 framework. The UNCCD submission was an excellent start to what we sought here in Poznan, but the Micronesia submission offers a chance to jump-start efforts to adopt biochar as a climate change mitigation technology.”