Change the World with Soil: 4 for 1000 Initiative Essentials

December 21, 2023
- Manon Pepouy

The 4 for 1000 initiative, launched on France's initiative at COP21 in 2015, aims to improve soil carbon concentration through land management practices adapted to local environmental, social, economic conditions. This global initiative plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change and soil degradation.

The main ambition is to increase the organic matter content of soils by 0.4% per year, focusing on agricultural soils. The initiative includes an action plan and a research program to promote best practices internationally.

This project aims to promote understanding of the carbon cycle and the importance of the soil's role in carbon storage, which can be used as a lever to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

By capturing atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis, a plant absorbs carbon. If this plant decomposes in the soil, it returns its carbon to the soil in the form of organic matter. This enriches the soil with carbon, making it more fertile and resilient.

The 4 for 1000 concept

The main objective of this initiative is to increase the organic matter content of soils by 0.4% per year, in all soils worldwide, but especially in agricultural soils, as this is where the real carbon storage potential lies.

In concrete terms, a 0.4% increase in soil carbon stocks would considerably limit the rise in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

This strategy would make soils more resistant to climate change and increase their fertility, which is essential for food security worldwide. By capturing CO2 through the process of photosynthesis, the plant returns carbon to the soil in the form of organic matter. The soil thus becomes richer in carbon, and more fertile.

The 4 by 1000 initiative promotes sustainable agricultural practices, such as agroforestry, soil conservation, crop management and composting, which can help increase soil organic carbon content. It involves collaboration between governments, international organizations, researchers, farmers and other stakeholders to achieve these goals and promote sustainable, climate-resilient food systems.


The co-benefits of increasing soil organic carbon are manifold:

- Combating soil degradation: as a result of human activity, 75% of soil is degraded to varying degrees, and climate change is accelerating this process. This is having a detrimental effect on food security, and is leading to changes in agricultural practices.

- Contributing to the goal of food security: Productive, stable soils directly promote farmers' resilience to climate disruption.

- Adapting agriculture to climate change: soils richer in organic carbon are better adapted to the impacts of climate disruption, as they are more resistant to erosion and retain water better.

How can we store more carbon in soils?

This objective can be achieved using a variety of methods.

The more the soil is covered, the richer it is in organic matter, and therefore in carbon:

🍃 Don't leave bare soil and work the soil less: no-till techniques are good examples.

🌳 Introduce more intermediate crops, intercrops and grass strips

🪴 Developing hedgerows on the edges of agricultural plots and agroforestry

⛰️ Optimize grassland management: e.g. extend grazing time

🌕 Restoring degraded land

According to the 4 for 1000 study report, the installation of hedges would remove 1.2 Co2e/ha/year from the atmosphere. The installation and lengthening of meadows would reduce Co2e/ha/yr by 0.9, and the permanent grassing of vineyards would subtract 1.5 Co2e/ha/yr from the atmosphere.

How do you measure your carbon stock?

Today, carbon sequestration can be measured in 2 ways:

→ Commission a laboratory to take soil samples.

→ Use indirect methods based on satellite imagery.

At Netcarbon, we have developed a tool for estimating carbon storage, based on satellite data. This gives you precise, near-real-time measurements for a particular area.

A decision-making tool

The simulation module integrated into the Netcarbon platform can be used to simulate the impact of agroecological practices on carbon storage, in order to build a global decarbonization strategy.

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases by 4.3 billion tonnes every year.

The 4 for 1000 initiative indicates that an increase in soil carbon stocks of 0.4% per year would make it possible to significantly limit this increase: An increase in soil carbon stocks combined with a drastic reduction in our GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions would be a major tool in the fight against global warming.

Do you need to store more carbon?

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