Contributions of community-led initiatives to carbon sequestration

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Carbon Sequestration Context

  • Carbon sequestration definition and complementarity to carbon emission reduction

Carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide is becoming a fundamental pathway due to the slow rate of global GHG emission reductions. There are several natural ways of doing it through biological, chemical and physical processes, several of which can and are being enhanced by CLI. On the other hand, there are also "artificial" processes that have been engineered to produce similar effects, including the large-scale capture and storage industrial processes, a very recent proposal, with several uncertainties, mainly regarding the effectiveness (e.g., leaks) and its high energy demand and consequently costs [1]. One of the most conventional ways of carbon to be stored is to be incorporated into photosynthetic living biomass (cyanobacteria and plants) and then not flowing back into the atmosphere after a full decomposition process after the living organism dies. In the ocean this means that carbon sinks to the bottom and in land it means that soil organic carbon (SOC) increases until it saturates, is trapped in a humid acid environment (Peat bogs) or converted into construction material or biochar (charcoal via pyrolysis). In this section we will focus on the design strategies and techniques implemented by CLIs to regenerate ecosystems, specifically by improving soil structure and quality as well as promoted a high level of biomass, diversity and networking of plants, animals and microorganisms.

  • Soil and Europe
    • A step towards a holistic assessment of soil degradation in Europe: Coupling on-site erosion with sediment transfer and carbon fluxes

Europe is losing soil quantity and quality mainly through erosion and bad management practices with strong consequences on soil depth and composition balance which leads to lower productivity (FAO ITPS, 2015). Also, soil is a major and important element of water and carbon cycles. While most of the soil is present in the oceans and fossil carbon in the lithosphere, it is estimated that soil stores up to three times the organic carbon present in the atmosphere at a depth of 2 m (2413 ± 37 Pg C to a depth of 2 m) (Lal, 2003 in [2]) and nearly four times considering all soil structure.

  • Carbon sequestration and CLI regeneration paradigm
    • Carbon sequestration in soil & Multiple benefits

During the COP21 French authorities launched the "4 per 1000 initiative" which intends to promote a 4‰ annual growth rate of soil carbon stock. This initiative believes that an improvement of land management will enhance the quality of agricultural soils but also carbon sequestration and storage potential. Improvement of soil quality can reduce soil erosion rates (and consequently reduce eutrophication, reduce river clogging and damages to infrastructures), improve surface water quality, etc... nurture water infiltration, ...

    • Future carbon sequestration in Europe—Effects of land use change

Carbon Sequestration Realised by Community-Led Initiatives

  • Ecosystem restoration and Indigenous & Human rights
    • Clara Report

In 2018, the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA) published a report entitled "Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action - Climate ambition that safeguards land rights, biodiversity and food sovereignty". In this report the authors substantiate and quantify the viable and possible way of decreasing GHG emission but also promote carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration, mainly by improving land management and agriculture practices at the same time that support local communities and indigenous initiatives, knowledge and wisdom. Within this report there are studies presented (by Stevens et al., 2014) that found that through periods of 13 years (2000 to 2012) deforestation rates in forest managed and owned by the local community in the Amazon region of Colombia and Brazil were three and seven times lower than rates outside, respectively. Another study mentioned in CLARA report (by Blackman and Viet, 2018) also showed that community management reduced both deforestation and forest carbon emissions in Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia over long periods of time.[3]

    • Learn from Amazonian Dark soils (paper)

More than 150 years ago, when mineral fertilisers were not abundant, several communities in different locations did managed to create deep (with more than 2 meters) and high quality soil rich in carbon, phosphorus and other nutrients (up to ten fold) when compared with surrounding and similar ecosystems. These soils are also known by "anthropic soils" and have been sustainably fertile for centuries and millennia, becoming a potential best practise to mitigate climate change at the same time that enables increased crop production. A 2019 article by Kern and colleagues[4] did managed to show, for distinct locations such as Brazil and Germany, that these soils had higher organic matter and nutrients content as well as showed that the stability of total organic carbon (TOC) increased with the black carbon portion of TOC. This black carbon is known to be of anthropic origin, benefiting from rich material (such as food leftovers, bones and/or manure and urine) and long-term chemical and physical processes (such as pyrolysis). The higher the carbon stability the longer the carbon will be stored in the soil without full decomposition.

Permaculture movements and other CLIs implementing Agroecology and Agroforestry land management practices do also foster to achieve a full ecosystem regeneration but promoting practices that promote soil regeneration, increase ecosystem resilience (e.g., fires) and promote living biomass and diversity. A 2013 study by Branca and colleagues[5] reviewed 160 publications that analysed the effectiveness of sustainable land management practices, summarised in Table 1 below, with an expectation of increasing systems resilience, higher and more stable yields, increased system resilience and, therefore, enhanced livelihoods and food security, and reduced production risk.

Table 1 - Detailed list of sustainable land management practices considered in the analysis. (source [5])

Branca and colleagues found that most sustainable land management practices analysed amongst smallholder farmers generally leads to increased yields, although the magnitude and variability of results varies with climatic conditions and specific practice. The practices with consistently positive yield effects are cover crops, organic fertilizer, mulching, and water harvesting. These sustainable practices tend to store carbon aboveground (such as agroforestry) and others (e.g., organic fertilisation) in deeper soil layer and bind it to stable micro aggregates, protecting it from decomposition, promoting the soil potential to sequester carbon and combat climate change. The same study also highlighted that mitigation potential increases in areas of higher rainfall. In Table 2, Branca and colleagues summarise the practices' mitigation potential.[5]

Table 2 - Annual mitigation potential of sustainable land management practices in each climatic region. (source [5])

  • Sequestration by Design: Permaculture, Agroecology, Agroforestry and Carbon farming
    • Quantifying the effectiveness of climate change mitigation through forest plantations and carbon sequestration with an integrated land-use model
    • Enrichment Planting and Soil Amendments Enhance Carbon Sequestration and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Agroforestry Systems: A Review
  • Sequestration with techniques: composting and mulching, reforestation, thinning, etc...

GROW project suggests as good practices to regenerate soil:

  • Protect from erosion – maintain plant cover (avoid bare soil) and retain crop residues, plant perennials e.g. agroforestry.
  • Protect from compaction (= maintain soil structure and porosity) – minimise compression, minimise soil disturbance (reduced till/dig), encourage deep-rooting plants.
  • Add organic matter (&close nutrient cycles) – Mulch, compost, plant perennials, and encourage biological activity.
  • Enhance soil biodiversity – Minimise tilling/digging, grow polycultures to enhance soil microbe and fungal diversity, grow perennials for long-term maintenance.

    • Composting: The way for a sustainable agriculture
    • Mulching
      • Soil carbon fractions in response to straw mulching in the Loess Plateau of China
      • Chinese cropping systems are a net source of greenhouse gases despite soil carbon sequestration
      • Does maize and legume crop residue mulch matter in soil organic carbon sequestration?
    • Carbon sequestration in European soils through straw incorporation: Limitations and alternatives
    • Thinning Can Reduce Losses in Carbon Use Efficiency and Carbon Stocks in Managed Forests Under Warmer Climate
  • Ecovillages and Co-Housing initiatives

Carbon Sequestration by Ecovillages and Co-Housing

A 2018 meta-analysis from the studies of world's ecovillages done by Barani and colleagues [6] allow us to understand the major strategies used by ecovillages to foster a sustainable living by regenerating the social, ecological, cultural and economic systems. Although most studies were focusing on north hemisphere ecovillages, many of them tend to implement several strategies that reduce impact on the natural system, including its carbon footprint, as well as foster activities that promote carbon sequestration. Some of the monitored activities/indicators measured at ecovillages include: preservation, regeneration and creation of natural habitats; promotion of nature-based and energy-efficient infrastructures; foster less, small and more shared infrastructures and goods; nurture circular economy and short water and food-waste cycles; as well as promote healthy lifestyles and sustainable commuting. All of these are known to be activities that tend to decrease carbon emission as well as increase carbon sequestration, as TESS project managed to show in their research project.

An earlier study (from 2017) reviewed 16 scientific publications that assessed the ecological and carbon footprint of 23 ecovillages and cohousing initiatives. [7] Regarding Carbon Footprint (CF), this study found that in general, ecovillages do tend to have a 35% lower CF than the comparison figures. For example, within Europe, this study highlighted that the CF of Sieben Linden ecovillage in Germany was only 27% of the German footprint.

"3.7 A brief look at Carbon Sequestration 97% of the 29 showcase ecovillages work actively to restore damaged or degraded ecosystems, 63% do it a lot or very much. 90% work actively to sequester carbon in soil and biomass, 37% do it a lot or very much." (GEN 2017:37)"These self-reported activities also help fulfill SDGs 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture - and 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss." (GEN 2017:38)"Many of the 100 drawdown solutions are also present, such as: ● Regenerative Agriculture ● Afforestation ● Clean Cookstoves ● Farmland Restoration ● Water Saving ● Composting ● Farmland Irrigation ● Biochar" (GEN 2017:38)

Carbon Footprint of Permaculture and Community-Supported Agriculture

"More than 570 million farms produce in almost all the world’s climates and soils (3), each using vastly different agronomic methods... and although four crops provide half of the world’s food calories (4), more than 2 million distinct varieties are recorded in seed vaults (5).""Today’s food supply chain creates ~13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq), 26% of anthropogenic GHG emissions. A further 2.8 billion metric tons of CO2eq (5%) are caused by nonfood agriculture and other drivers of de- forestation (17). Food production creates ~32% of global terrestrial acidification and ~78% of eutrophication. These emissions can fundamen- tally alter the species composition of natural ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and ecological resilience (19). The farm stage dominates, rep- resenting 61% of food’s GHG emissions (81% including deforestation), 79% of acidification, and 95% of eutrophication (table S17). Today’s agricultural system is also incredibly resource intensive, covering ~43% of the world’s ice- and desert-free land. Of this land, ~87% is for food and 13% is for biofuels and textile crops or is allocated to nonfood uses such as wool and leather. We estimate that two-thirds of freshwater withdrawals are for irrigation. However, irrigation returns less water to rivers and groundwater than industrial and municipal uses and pre- dominates in water-scarce areas and times of the year, driving 90 to 95% of global scarcity- weighted water use (17)."[8]

AgroEcology Carbon Farming

Interesting Country studies

Constraints & Thresholds

Further Research

TESS report on the potential of CLI to reduce carbon emission do suggest that further research should investigate the links between CLIs' activities and their members and beneficiaries' individual behaviour. Examining these indirect effects would help to complete the picture of how CBIs influence both society and individuals in terms of sustainability and how to maximise their impacts." [9]

Inspiring Cases

Related Links

Climate change: scenarios, impacts and responses CLI monitoring tools Alternative transition trajectories Contributions of community-led initiatives to reductions in carbon emissions Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate action


  1. accessed on Feb 11th 2019
  2. accessed on Feb 11th 2019
  3. Kate Dooley, and Doreen Stabinsky. “Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The Role of the Land Sector in Ambitious Climate Action - Climate Ambition That Safeguards Land Rights, Biodiversity and Food Sovereignty.” Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, 2018.
  4. Kern, Jürgen, Luise Giani, Wenceslau Teixeira, Giacomo Lanza, and Bruno Glaser. “What Can We Learn from Ancient Fertile Anthropic Soil (Amazonian Dark Earths, Shell Mounds, Plaggen Soil) for Soil Carbon Sequestration?” CATENA 172 (January 1, 2019): 104–12.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Branca, Giacomo, Leslie Lipper, Nancy McCarthy, and Maria Christina Jolejole. “Food Security, Climate Change, and Sustainable Land Management. A Review.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33, no. 4 (October 2013): 635–50.
  6. Barani, Shahrzad, Amir Hossein Alibeygi, and Abdolhamid Papzan. “A Framework to Identify and Develop Potential Ecovillages: Meta-Analysis from the Studies of World’s Ecovillages.” Sustainable Cities and Society 43 (November 2018): 275–89.
  7. Daly, Matthew. “Quantifying the Environmental Impact of Ecovillages and Co-Housing Communities: A Systematic Literature Review.” Local Environment 22, no. 11 (November 2, 2017): 1358–77.
  8. Poore, J., and T. Nemecek. “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers.” Science 360, no. 6392 (June 1, 2018): 987–92.
  9. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named TESS GHG