Climate change adaptation, mitigation and food security may be addressed at the same time by enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration through environmentally sound land management practices. This is promoted by the “4 per 1000” Initiative, a multi-stakeholder platform aiming at increasing SOC storage through sustainable practices. The scientific and technical committee of the Initiative is working to identify indicators, research priorities and region-specific practices needed for their implementation. The Initiative received its name due to the global importance of soils for climate change, which can be illustrated by a thought experiment showing that an annual growth rate of only 0.4% of the standing global SOC stocks would have the potential to counterbalance the current increase in atmospheric CO2. However, there are numerous barriers to the rise in SOC stocks and while SOC sequestration can contribute to partly offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, its main benefits are related to increased soil quality and climate change adaptation. The Initiative provides a collaborative platform for policy makers, practitioners, scientists and stakeholders to engage in finding solutions. Criticism of the Initiative has been related to the poor definition of its numerical target, which was not understood as an aspirational goal. The objective of this paper is to present the aims of the initiative, to discuss critical issues and to present challenges for its implementation. We identify barriers, risks and trade-offs and advocate for collaboration between multiple parties in order to stimulate innovation and to initiate the transition of agricultural systems toward sustainability.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Barre, P., H. Durand, C. Chenu, P. Meunier, D. Montagne, G. Castel, D. Billiou, L. Soucemarianadin, et al. 2017. Geological control of soil organic carbon and nitrogen stocks at the landscape scale. Geoderma 285: 50–56.
Baveye, P.C., J. Berthelin, D. Tessier, and G. Lemaire. 2018. The “4 per 1000” initiative: A credibility issue for the soil science community? Geoderma 309: 118–123.
Chabbi, A., J. Lehmann, P. Ciais, H.W. Loescher, M.F. Cotrufo, A. Don, M. SanClements, L. Schipper, et al. 2017. Aligning agriculture and climate policy. Nature Climate Change 7: 307–309.
Chenu, C., D.A. Angers, P. Barré, D. Derrien, D. Arrouays, and J. Balesdent. 2019. Increasing organic stocks in agricultural soils: Knowledge gaps and potential innovations. Soil and Tillage Research 118: 42–51.
Corbeels, M., K. Naudin, H. Guibert, E. Torquebiau, and R. Cardinael. 2019. Is 4 per 1000 soil carbon storage attainable with agroforestry and conservation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa? Soil & Tillage Research 188: 16–26.
de Vries, W. 2018. Soil carbon 4 per mille: A good initiative but let’s manage not only the soil but also the expectations: Comment on Minasny et al. (2017). Geoderma 292: 59–86.
Diacono, M., and F. Montemurro. 2010. Long-term effects of organic amendments on soil fertility. A review. Agriculture for Sustainable Development 30: 401–422.
Ditzler, L., T.A. Breland, C. Francis, M. Chakraborty, D.K. Singh, A. Srivastava, F. Eyhorn, J.C.J. Groot, et al. 2018. Identifying viable nutrient management interventions at the farm level: The case of smallholder organic Basmati rice production in Uttarakhand, India. Agricultural Systems 161: 61–71.
Frank, S., P. Havlík, J.F. Soussana, A. Levesque, H. Valin, L. Wollenberg, U. Kleinwechter, O. Fricko, et al. 2017. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture without compromising food security? Environmental Research Letters 12: 105004.
Fujisaki, K., T. Chevallier, L. Chapuis-Lardy, A. Albrecht, T. Razafimbelo, D. Masse, and J.-L. Chotte. 2018. Soil carbon stock changes in tropical croplands are mainly driven by carbon inputs: A synthesis. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 259: 147–158.
Hutchinson, J.J., C.A. Campbell, and R. Desjardins. 2007. Some perspectives on carbon sequestration in agriculture. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 142: 288–302.
IPCC. 2006. 2006 IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories. In Prepared by the national greenhouse gas Inventories programme, eds. H.S. Eggleston, L. Buendia, K. Miwa, T. Ngara, and K. Tanabe. Japan: IGES.
Jackson, R.B., E.G. Jobbágy, R. Avissar, S.R. Baidya, D.F. Barrett, C.W. Cook, K.A. Farley, D.C. le Maitre, et al. 2005. Trading water for carbon with biological carbon sequestration. Science 5756: 1944–1947.
Kirkby, C.A., A.E. Richardson, L.J. Wade, J.B. Passioura, G.D. Batten, C. Blanchard, and J.A. Kirkegaard. 2014. Nutrient availability limits carbon storage in agricultural soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 68: 204–209.
Kon Kam King, J., C. Granjou, J. Fournil, and L. Cecillon. 2018. Soil sciences and the French 4 per 1000 Initiative—The promises of underground carbon. Energy Research & Social Science 45: 144–152.
Ladha, J.K., C.K. Reddy, A.T. Padre, and C.V. Kessel. 2011. Role of nitrogen fertilization in sustaining organic matter in cultivated soils. Journal of Environmental Quality 40: 1756–1766.
Lal, R. 2004. Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science 304: 1623–1627.
Lal, R. 2019. Promoting “4 Per Thousand” and “Adapting African Agriculture” by south-south cooperation: Conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification. Soil and Tillage Research 118: 27–34.
Leifeld, J., and L. Menichetti. 2018. The underappreciated potential of peatlands in global climate change mitigation strategies. Nature Communications 9: 1071.
Lugato, E., A. Leip, and A. Jones. 2018. Mitigation potential of soil carbon management overestimated by neglecting N2O emissions. Nature Climate Change 8: 219–223.
Maroušek, J., M. Vochozka, J. Plachý, and J. Žák. 2017. Glory and misery of biochar. Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy 19: 311–317.
Minasny, B., D. Arrouays, A.B. McBratney, D.A. Angers, A. Chambers, V. Chaplot, and L. Winowiecki. 2018. Rejoinder to Comments on Minasny et al., 2017 Soil carbon 4 per mille. Geoderma 292: 59–86.
Nath, J.A., R. Lal, G.W. Siles, K. Dasa, and A.K. Das. 2018. Managing India’s small landholder farms for food security and achieving the “4 per Thousand” target. The Science of the Total Environment 634: 1024–1033.
Pan, W.L., W.S. Schillinger, F.L. Young, E. Kirby, and G.G. Yorgey, et al. 2017. Integrating old principles and new technologies into win-win scenarios for farm and climate. Frontiers in Environmental Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2017.00076.
Paustian, K., J. Lehmann, S. Ogle, D. Reay, G.P. Robertson, and P. Smith. 2016. Climate-smart soils. Nature 532: 49–57.
Pingali, P.L. 2012. Green revolution: impacts, limits and the path ahead. PNAS 109: 12302–12308.
Pittelkow, C.M., X. Liang, B.A. Linquist, K.J. van Groenigen, J. Lee, M.E. Lundy, N. van Gestel, J. Six, et al. 2015. Productivity limits and potentials of the principles of conservation agriculture. Nature 517: 365–368. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13809.
Poeplau, C., and A. Don. 2015. Carbon sequestration in agricultural soils via cultivation of cover crops—A meta-analysis. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 200: 33–41.
Poulton, P., J. Johnston, A. MacDonald, R. White, and D. Powlson. 2018. Major limitations to achieving “4 per 1000″ increases in soil organic carbon stock in temperate regions: Evidence from long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research. UK. Global Change Biology 12: 3218–3221.
Powlson, D.S., A.P. Whitmore, and A.W.T. Goulding. 2011. Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change: a critical re-examination to identify the true and the false. European Journal of Soil Science 62: 42–55.
Rumpel, C., F. Amiraslani, L.-S. Koutika, P. Smith, D. Whitehead, and E. Wollenberg. 2018. Put more carbon in soils to meet Paris climate pledges. Nature 564: 32–34.
Sanderman, J., C. Creamer, W.T. Baisden, M. Farrell, and S. Fallon. 2017. Greater soil carbon stocks and faster turnover rates with increasing agricultural productivity. Soil 3: 1–16.
Scharlemann, J.P.W., E.V.J. Tanner, R. Hiederer, and V. Kapos. 2014. Global soil carbon: understanding and managing the largest terrestrial carbon pool. Carbon Manag. 5: 81–91.
Schiefer, J., G.J. Lair, C. Lüthgens, E.M. Wild, P. Steiner, and W.H. Blum. 2018. The increase of soil organic carbon as proposed by the “4/1000 initiative” is strongly limited by the status of soil development—A case study along a substrate age gradient in Central Europe. The Science of the Total Environment 628–629: 840–847.
Smith, P. 2016. Soil carbon sequestration and biochar as negative emission technologies. Global Change Biology 22: 1315–1324.
Smith, P., S.J. Davis, F. Creutzig, S. Fuss, J. Minx, B. Gabrielle, et al. 2016. Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions. Nature Climate Change 6: 42–50.
Sommer, R., and D. Bossio. 2014. Dynamics and climate change mitigation potential of soil organic carbon sequestration. Journal Environmental Management 144: 83–87.
Soussana, J.F., S. Lutfalla, R. Lal, C. Chenu, and P. Ciais. 2017. Letter to the editor: answer to the viewpoint “sequestering soil organic carbon: a nitrogen dilemma” by van Groenigen et al. (2017). Environmental Science and Technology 51: 11502.
Soussana, J.F., S. Lutfalla, F. Ehrhardt, T. Rosenstock, C. Lamanna, P. Havlík, and R. Lal. 2019. Matching policy and science: Rationale for the “4 per 1000 - soils for food security and climate” initiative. Soil and Tillage Research 188: 3–15.
STC. 2017. The ‘4 per 1000’ Research Priorities. https://www.4p1000.org/sites/default/files/content/gov_cst_en_consortium_3-4-4p1000_research_priorities.pdf.
Tilman, D., C. Balzer, J. Hill, and B.L. Befort. 2011. Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Science USA 108: 20260–20264.
Trost, B., A. Prochnow, K. Drastig, A. Meyer-Aurich, F. Ellmer, and M. Baumecker. 2013. Irrigation, soil organic carbon and N2O emissions. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33: 733–749.
UNFCCC. 2018. Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (decision 4/CP.23).
Van Groenigen, J.W., C. Van Kessel, B.A. Hungate, O. Oenema, D.S. Powlson, and K.J. Van Groenigen. 2017. Sequestering soil organic carbon: A nitrogen dilemma. Environmental Science and Technology 51: 4738–4739.
VandenBygaart, A.J. 2018. Comments on soil carbon 4 per mille by Minasny et al. 2017. Geoderma 309: 113–114.
White, R.E., B. Davidson, S.K. Lam, and D. Chen. 2018. A critique of the paper “Soil carbon 4 per mille” by Minasny et al. (2017). Geoderma 309: 115–117.
Authors would like to acknowledge the executive secretariat of the 4p1000 initiative, Charlotte Verger and Claire Weill for their valuable contributions during the preparation of this manuscript. The input of PS contributes to the UK NERC-funded Soils-R-GGREAT project (NE/P019455/1).
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Rumpel, C., Amiraslani, F., Chenu, C. et al. The 4p1000 initiative: Opportunities, limitations and challenges for implementing soil organic carbon sequestration as a sustainable development strategy. Ambio 49, 350–360 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01165-2
- Carbon sequestration
- Climate change
- Food security