The biochar system presents itself as an exceptional negative emissions technology in that it can readily provide multiple public goods at relatively low cost, notably restoration of soil carbon and water conservation in addition to climate mitigation, as well as multiple private goods related to the use of biochar as a soil amendment and other possible uses. To realise this potential at scale, however, a holistic and coherent cross-sectoral policy approach is needed.
So far, the lack of an enabling and supportive policy framework at the EU level and, consequently, low demand for biochar as a soil amendment, has been the main barrier to widespread diffusion of the biochar system. Such framework is now under construction, but its final configuration is still undefined.
Financial reward of greenhouse gas removals from the atmosphere, as well as of soil carbon restoration, would likely propel the diffusion of the biochar system. While evidence on non-economic barriers to the uptake of the biochar system is scant, public acceptance is not of concern. Notably, the co-benefits of properly regulated biochar for soil amendment suggest that this product may well appeal to farmers, who however need to be trained.
Which policy instruments should be used to reward greenhouse gas removals produced by the biochar system and other negative emissions technologies, is a question that should be addressed soon. Setting specific targets for emission reductions and removals, rather than aggregate targets for net emissions, would help address this question as well as avert the risk of delaying either emission reductions or removals. Given the urgency of tackling climate change, opportunities for cost-effective greenhouse gas removals, such as those already offered by the biochar system, should be exploited without delay.
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