Beyond Emissions Reduction : The Co-benefits of Carbon Capture

March 22, 2024
- Sarah Chassany & Gaétan Pique

Storing carbon is one way of reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and hoping to live in a more sustainable world. But the impact of vegetation is not limited to storing carbon: there are many co-benefits.

These co-benefits are also known as "ecosystem services", and concern all types of vegetation. Most are vital for many species (e.g. pollination).

What's interesting is to understand the ecosystem services provided by each agroecological infrastructure. We've listed them for you, explaining how they develop and who benefits directly from them!

Ecosystem services of intermediate crops

Intercropping is the period between harvesting one crop and sowing the next. During intercropping, the soil is left "bare", without plants, providing an opportunity to plant intermediate crops and benefit from a variety of co-benefits!

Succession of annual crops - Diagram (Juste et al, 2012)

Protecting and improving soil chemical properties

Intercrops protect and improve the soil by absorbing mineral nitrogen, preventing nitrate loss and recycling absorbed nutrients back into the soil. This favors the establishment of the following crop.

Protecting and improving soil physical properties

Intermediate crops preserve the soil's physical properties by improving water stability and circulation, while limiting evaporation losses. They also maintain soil organic matter, which is similar to carbon sequestration.

Biological properties

Intercrops improve the biological life of the soil and prevent pests and diseases thanks to their diversity. Vegetation cover planted during intercropping controls weeds, attracts pollinators and provides a habitat for wildlife.

Contribution to the growing system

Crop diversification is beneficial to farming systems when nutrient availability is low. Intermediate crops improve landscape diversity and can be used to produce fodder or biomass energy in times of shortage.

Ecosystem services of hedgerows

Planting hedges means introducing trees to the edges of plots of land. A hedge is a linear plant structure composed of trees, shrubs and bushes or other plants. It either grows freely, or is maintained to form a fence, or to provide shelter for flora and fauna.

Hedgerows are a highly interesting type of AEI because of their great capacity to store carbon in the soil. Around 1.2 tonnes of carbon are sequestered per hectare, per year (over approximately 30 years). Carbon can be captured in two different ways: in the above-ground and below-ground biomass, and in the soil, thanks in particular to dead roots, tree leaves and the absence of ploughing in the hedgerow zone.

The co-benefits of hedges are numerous, some agronomic and others environmental, making them interesting AEIs.

Hedgerows are important for agriculture, as they promote biodiversity by providing shelter for insects and birds, and improve pollination and water quality in the soil.

Hedgerows play an essential role in crop resilience in the face of climate change, providing protection against cold and heat, acting as windbreaks and combating soil erosion.

Forest ecosystem services

The co-benefits of forests are numerous, and most of them are regulatory services. These include ecosystem services related to extreme events, environmental quality, biological regulation and climate regulation.

Forest ecosystem services - Dufrene & Maebe

Forests also provide co-benefits associated with production, such as food, materials and fibres, energy and drinking and non-potable water. There are also cultural co-benefits linked to the environment for everyday life and leisure, sources of experience and knowledge, and sources of inspiration and values.

Things to remember

The ecosystem services of carbon capture are numerous! At the same time, each agroecological infrastructure offers a multitude of benefits related to environmental quality, biological and climatic regulation, and the chemical and physical properties of soils.

Intermediate crops, hedgerows, forests - all these AEIs play an active part in protecting and sustaining flora and fauna, while providing us with a better quality of life. 🌍


Justes E., Beaudoin N., Bertuzzi P., Charles R., Constantin J., Dürr C., Hermon C., Joannon A., Le Bas C., Mary B., Mignolet C., Montfort F., Ruiz L., Sarthou J.P., Souchère V., Tournebize J., 2012. Reducing nitrate leakage using intermediate crops: consequences on water and nitrogen balances, other ecosystem services. Study report, INRA (France), 418 p.

Claire Chenu, Katja Klumpp, A. Bispo, D. Angers, C. Colnenne, et al. Storing carbon in agricultural soils: assessment of action levers for France. Innovations Agronomiques, 2014, 37, pp.23-37. ⟨hal-01173319⟩

Aurelie Metay. Developing agroforestry and hedgerows to promote carbon storage in soil and plant biomass. What contribution can French agriculture make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Mitigation potential and cost of ten technical actions. Synthesis of the report on the study carried out by INRA on behalf of ADEME, MAAF and MEDE, Inra, 2013. ⟨hal-01600866⟩

Dufrene & Maebe SE en foret - Big book of the forest.pdf


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