Biochar Breakthrough

Sometimes the world does the right thing for the wrong reason. Having this conference support biochar as a way to save the climate is quickly turning out to be a silly rational. But no matter, if that is what it takes to get it done.

Biochar will sequester all the CO2 we have put into the atmosphere if every farmer on earth gets involved and uses biochar to rebuild his soils. It will take generations but in the end we will have healthy fertile soils everywhere and vast tracts of new land will have entered cultivation.

We need a global conference focused on implementing biochar in every soil. This will be a good start.

Eighteen months ago, when I first discovered the antiquity of biochar, I understood immediately what it meant and posted extensively. Few understood the underlying mechanism. That knowledge is slowly percolating into our tool kit and everyone has accepted now easy it is to make work. A few still tout the biofuel aspect but that is an unnecessary complication and a likely misstep. Other excellent methods have emerged and we still have access to primitive methods.

During the last eighteen months, biochar has gone from total obscurity to now been on the verge of been a household name. The recent National Geographic and the apparent fallout from this conference is now getting the story out with the full weight of the media.

This press release is a bit of an overstatement still but I heartily support the sentiments. Every farmer needs to know about biochar and needs to know how to use it.

Breakthrough from the Black: Biochar to be Considered for Kyoto Status

11 12 2008

[From the Editor: Biochar may be one of the most promising tools humanity now has to mitigate and adapt to global climate change. And now it's being considered for inclusion as a Clean Development Project (CDM) by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC). The CDM is the central component of the Kyoto Protocol that allows for developed countries (so-called "Annex II" countries) to offset their emissions in developing countries through specific projects that must meet be approved by the UNCCC.

The efficacy of the Kyoto protocol to combat climate change
has come under increasing scrutiny as decreases in emissions have proven dismally inadequate in light of recent suggestions that we may already be above dangerous levels of anthropogenic emissions. A clear-eyed and critical analysis of the Kyoto Protocol's strengths and weaknesses are needed in order to move forward with a truly effective international agreement that will set the Earth on course to drive down atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 ppm by 2050 (as the best science now indicates is necessary to avoid dangerous climate destabilization.)

Clearly, the consideration of biochar by the UNCCC is a monumentous achievement and should help drive us toward a much more serious and sensible investigation of what will be necessary for a post-Kyoto agreement. The cause has been taken up by United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and is a decisive step toward widespread development and implementation of carbon-negative biochar production.

Below is the press release, in full, by the
International Biochar Initiative. (Feel free to send them email expressing support or express it with a donation to the IBI. Congratulations to all who were involved in spearheading this most important achievement! -RDH.]

IBI Announces Success in Having Biochar Considered as a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Tool

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 10, 2008

POZNAN, Poland, December 10, 2008 - The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has submitted a proposal to include biochar as a mitigation and adaptation technology to be considered in the post-2012-Copenhagen agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at

Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. The carbon in biochar resists degradation and can sequester carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years.
IBI Executive Director Debbie Reed said, “The UNCCD submission is a great success, and is paralleled by a lot of very positive discussions and interest in biochar amongst country delegates as well as observers of the process.”

The UNCCD, a sister convention to the UNFCCC, has identified biochar as a unique opportunity to address soils as a carbon sink. According to the submission document: “The world’s soils hold more organic carbon than that held by the atmosphere as CO2 and vegetation, yet the role of the soil in capturing and storing carbon dioxide is often one missing information layer in taking into consideration the importance of the land in mitigating climate change.”

UNCCD proposes that biochar must be considered as a vital tool for rehabilitation of dryland soils: “The fact that many of the drylands soils have been degraded means that they are currently far from saturated with carbon and their potential to sequester carbon may be very high … making the consideration of Biochar, as a strategy for enhancing soils carbon sequestration, imperative.”

UNC CD also cites the ability of biochar to address multiple climate and development concerns while avoiding the disadvantages of other bioenergy technologies that deplete soil organic matter (SOM). IBI Executive Director Debbie Reed said, “Pyrolysis systems that produce biochar can provide many advantages. Biochar restores soil organic carbon and soil fertility, reduces emissions from agriculture, and can provide clean, renewable energy. Conventional biomass energy competes with soil building needs for crop residue feedstocks, but biochar accommodates both uses.”

Reduced deforestation is another biochar advantage cited by the UNCCD in their submitted proposal for including biochar in carbon trading mechanisms: “The carbon trade could provide an incentive to cease further deforestation; instead reforestation and recuperation of degraded land for fuel and food crops would gain magnitude.”

Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate, is in Poznan to help educate delegates about biochar. Sams believes that the climate and ancillary benefits of biochar are so great that biochar systems should be eligible for double credits. Sams said, “Adding the rewards for abandoning carbon emitting practices such as slash and burn cultivation, deforestation and wood fire cooking, to the rewards for adopting biochar practices in agriculture, forestry and cooking, ought to qualify for double credits.”

UNCCD proposes to include biochar in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and to revise the rules to account for biochar as a permanent means of carbon capture. UNCCD also proposes adjusting the carbon offset rules to allow greater financial flows to help developing countries increase soil organic matter with biochar.

Biochar has one important additional advantage over other land use carbon sequestration projects - carbon sequestration through biochar is easy to quantify. It is also relatively permanent. The UNCCD says: “Potential drawbacks such as difficulty in estimating greenhouse gas removals and emissions resulting from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), or destruction of sinks through forest fire or disease do not apply to biochar soil amendments.”

Overall, the potential magnitude of biochar as a climate mitigation tool is great. IBI Board Chair Dr. Johannes Lehmann said, “We are pleased that the UNCCD has recognized the potential of biochar. Results from IBI’s preliminary model to estimate the potential of biochar carbon sequestration show that biochar production from agriculture and forestry residues can potentially sequester one gigaton of carbon in the world’s soils annually by 2040. Using the biochar energy co-product to displace fossil fuel energy can approximately double the carbon impact of biochar alone.”

IBI’s objective for the remainder of the UN meeting at Poznan is to interest more countries in proposing biochar for consideration as a mitigation and adaptation technology in the post-2012 Copenhagen process of the UNFCCC.

About IBI

The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) is a registered non-profit organization that serves as an international platform for the exchange of information and activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration and commercialization. IBI participants comprise a consortium of researchers, commercial entities, policy makers, development agents, farmers and gardeners and others committed to supporting sustainable biochar production and utilization systems that remove carbon from the atmosphere and enhance the earth’s soils.

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