In March 2015 the French Minister for Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, launched the idea of the 4‰ Initiative. The goal then was to develop an international research programme in order to identify and validate technical options for increasing carbon storage in agricultural soils, “with a view to extremely effective measures against climate change”. This research programme was supplemented by an action plan in order to be integrated into the COP21 “Agenda of Solutions”. Over and above the objective of storing more carbon and improving soil fertility, reference is made to the challenge of agricultural production and, more broadly, of food security. This political use of proposals initially made by scientists was accompanied by several inevitable reductions and simplifications, which are now just some of the challenges facing the deployment of the 4‰ Initiative:
1. The ambitions of the 4‰ Initiative need to be scaled down and specified in two ways:
(a) by acknowledging that the 4‰ Initiative can only partially address food security and climate issues. Where food security is concerned, its main contribution is only to increase agricultural productivity and stability, while taking account of the spillover effects on the socioeconomic structure of farms; where mitigation is concerned, it has to be acknowledge that increasing SOC stocks is only a temporary solution to increase carbon storage and cannot be a substitute for emissions reduction policies;
(b) by assuming the institutional and normative dimension of the initiative: the aim is not so much to generate a large number of projects which, together, would transform agricultural sectors, but rather to contribute to increasing the credibility and legitimacy of farming practices and systems that are currently overlooked in discussions.
2. The governance of the 4‰ Initiative must take into account four requirements:
(a) confirming the originality of the initiative in relation to other similar approaches, detailing how the action plan will be backed up by an international research programme enabling innovation, learning and the clarification of a normative framework;
(b) acting as an intermediary between climate finance mechanisms and farmers’ groups, in order to facilitate the development of pilot experiments;
(c) articulating the initiative with agricultural policies in the countries of both the North and the South in order to foster the transfer of successful experiences in the form of public policies;
(d) setting out a robust accountability framework, which guarantees that projects will be effective in terms of their main goals without having any adverse impacts on food security (in all its dimensions), land rights or biodiversity.