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The breakfast seminar on soil carbon was, originally, meant to be held in the European Parliament in March 2020. Due to the prevailing COVID situation, the seminar was postponed to autumn – and then finally organized as a webinar on Thursday 29 October. The webinar gathered at least over 130 participants, and it was funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland as part of the Carbon Action platform and stn MULTA project. In the Carbon Action platform farmers, scientists, companies, and decision-makers work closely together, which was also reflected in the programme of the webinar.

The timing was good. The European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers agreed on their respective positions on the new Common Agricultural Policy last week. The European Parliament had agreed on their position on the new EU Climate Law the week before. It was thus very fitting to have the honour of having the two focal MEP’s for the policies, Elsi Katainen (Renew Europe), the vice-chair of the Agricultural committee of the European Parliament and rapporteur of the CAP transitional legislation and Jytte Guteland (S&D), rapporteur of the Climate package, to co-cost the webinar. The webinar was moderated by Laura Höijer, Content Director of the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG).

In her opening greeting, Elsi Katainen endorsed the voting result of the European Parliament on the CAP and the high priority for climate and environment measures in the EP position, as examples of which she mentioned the ring-fencing of 30% of direct payment to eco-schemes, that can support carbon farming and nutrient recycling. Even more interesting for carbon farming are the new output indicators that will be developed in the near future. Ultimately, however, as Elsi pointed out, it will be the level of ambition and measures in the Member States CAP Strategic Plans, that will guarantee the result. Finally, Elsi reminded that Horizon Europe has identified the five most challenging topics for Europe, so-called missions – and soil is included. A mission in the area of soil health and food will provide a powerful tool to promote carbon farming and develop solutions for restoring soil health.

Saara Kankaanrinta, chairman of the board of the BSAG and of the Carbon Action steering group, puts it very simply. Soil holds almost twice as much carbon as plants and the atmosphere combined and its potential to further sequester carbon is significant. At the same time, we protect the world’s biodiversity, of which 25% lives in the soil. In return, healthy soil means less emissions to waters, thus mitigating eutrophication. In order to realize these positive outcomes, she calls for a paradigm shift in agriculture. One that abandons degenerative farming practices and goes beyond sustainable, to regenerative agriculture.

Saara told that Carbon Action has been successful in scaling activities. For example, new carbon farmers have been gained through Carbon Action Club and business co-operation. Digital learning is being developed together with Reaktor, the maker of the famous Elements of AI course. Carbon Action platform currently also trains 30 agricultural advisors to become top experts in soil health and carbon farming. In the discussion, Saara pointed out that policy is the biggest steering method for the change – or at least should be. The present decisions on CAP might not steer the change as strongly as we would have hoped.

Carbon Action is farmer-based and constantly taking shape in interaction with the farmers. 100 Carbon Action Farms test practices and collect experiences. Juuso Joona, regenerative farmer from Carbon Action Farm, pointed out that regenerative agriculture brings multiple benefits – for the farmer, for the environment and for the society. He illustrated that regenerative farming consists of practices that are common and mostly well-known to our predecessors. It is not about big investments in technology, but about knowledge. The biggest difference from the farmers’ perspective is to adopt a holistic management approach in order to harvest full benefit.  To scale-up this transition, farmers need incentives in form of stronger conditionality and financial rewards through the CAP. In particular result-based payments, which are possible in the new CAP, can work well as they offer sufficient flexibility for the farmer to adapt to different conditions as well as more cost-effective monitoring. As an example, Juuso proposes year-round crop cover which can be monitored by Sentinel 2 satellite imagery.

Carbon Action platform contains multiple research projects and a multi-disciplinary network of researchers. Jari Liski, Research Professor of the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the co-ordinator of the scientific work of the Carbon Action, presented the scientifically ambitious measurement and verification system that is being developed. The verification system uses extensively collected data and can model and predict carbon sequestration even in areas where measurement data are scarce. A Field Observatory has been created to illustrate the methods developed in the project and the results obtained from them. On a societal level, scientific verification provides a basis for agricultural and climate policy instruments and a possible carbon credit market. Jari’s encouraging message is that as they have witnessed on the test fields during this initial 2-year process, changes in the soil can happen quickly. Jari concluded that scientists can affect the rate at which the results are adopted in the society by communicating about the work and results openly and actively.

 

Carbon Action engages also companies actively and in increasing numbers on the Carbon Action company platform. Juha Nousiainen, Director of Carbon Neutral Milk Chain at Valio dairy really practices what he preaches as he introduces the R&D work and already adopted practises to be carbon neutral in milk production by 2035. He does this together with the 4,500 dairy producers, with researchers, and with the cows grazing on grasslands. Every step in the chain is geared for overall sustainability. Manure and side streams are effectively processed further to energy, fertilizers, bedding material and biofuel. It is evident that Valio is a good example of a company that sets a clear vision, high targets and takes steady steps toward them. Aiming at no less than to renew the food production system sector in Europe.

Discussion was active on the chat and on the twitter (#CarbonAction). One popular subject was the motivation of farmers. For example, ‘Land and Livestock Management for Life’ asked what has attracted farmers to join the Carbon Action work. Saara Kankaanrinta answered that we offer hope, motivation, intensive professional training and profitability – farmers want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Juuso Joona emphasized the importance of knowledge, farmers are very keen to learn, and co-operation and peer to peer learning is very motivating. Juha Nousiainen added that when Valio started carbon farming training in co-operation with BSAG, it was not difficult at all to get farmers to attend. In addition, examples are important, like the one from Juuso, that show that with the right practices, it is possible to store 1 ton of additional carbon per hectare per year.

The final greeting was rightfully given to Jytte Guteland, who appreciated the concrete practical work of Carbon Action that the whole EU can learn from and follow. Good examples and solutions, like carbon farming and agroforestry, that can be widely adopted in the society are really needed as the EU aims for climate neutrality by 2050 and a 60% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, if the position of the EP is to prevail.

The pioneering work in Finland by Carbon Action platform was highly regarded and valued by both MEPs as well as many of the participants of the event. For example, Paul Luu from the 4/1000 initiative commented through the chat that Finland is in a good situation to inspire the countries in the same conditions. And the soil is something that can unite all of us with different interests. As the whole world is fighting the unfortunate pandemic, Saara Kankaanrinta – holding a piece of turf in her hands – reminds us of the connection between the microbes in the soil and microbes in our body: the soil is really the key to our health.

 

Recording of the Carbon Action MEP breakfast webinar can be accessed here, the discussion including also the discussion on chat (under comments):

Carbon farming webinar 29.10.2020

And power point presentations shown are available here.

An update on Carbon Action.

More information on Carbon Action®, including an overview paper on ‘regenerative agriculture’ is available at carbonaction.org.


Background

The goal of the Carbon Action platform is a systemic change towards regenerative agriculture (1, 2, 3). Regenerative agriculture enhances soil health as it restores the carbon content, which, in turn, improves productivity. It also increases biodiversity and ecosystem resilience and provides many other benefits like water infiltration and nutrient retention.

In the Carbon Action platform farmers, advisors, scientists, companies, and decision-makers work together. The platform contains several funders and projects. Carbon Action enables concrete co-operation and co-development between the different actors and projects. The holistic approach has evoked international interest.

Towards regenerative agriculture – where are we now?

Farmers and advisors: Carbon Action is farmer-based and constantly taking shape in interaction with the farmers. 100 Carbon Action Farms test practices and collect experiences. Farmers benefit directly from peer learning. For example, during the rainy winter, 2019–2020 farmers experienced the positive effects of soil management measures for water retention capacity of the soil. For Carbon Action farmers, collaboration with researchers has been valuable, and correspondingly, researchers have received practical insights from farmers.

New carbon farmers have been gained through business cooperation (see below) and through the Carbon Action Club – which is open for all farmers – and by expanding towards the Swedish-speaking farmers in Finland. The Carbon Action Club has now about 500 members. Digital learning platforms are being developed together with Reaktor, the maker of the famous Elements of AI course. Carbon Action platform also trains 30 agricultural advisors to become top experts in soil health and carbon farming.

Scientists: The Carbon Action platform brings together and conducts scientific research to e.g. enhance soil carbon sequestration. The platform contains multiple research projects and a multi-disciplinary network of researchers. Research is conducted and utilized at several levels from soil processes to climate and agricultural policies.

The hundred Carbon Action Farms test carbon farming and provide research material. The first samples from the Carbon Action farms test and control plots have been analyzed and subsequent samples will be taken after five years to measure changes. The carbon content of the first samples will soon be published in an open-access scientific journal. Also, soil samples have been taken from 30 farms to a depth of one meter and the analysis of the samples is ongoing.

More detailed field experiments studying the impacts on carbon fluxes and sequestration have been established on 20 of these Carbon Action Farms. Farmers on these farms can monitor the effectiveness of carbon farming measures at the field level, and the results are published annually on a Zenodo server (keyword ‘Carbon Action’). The results show how different plots react to droughts and heavy rains and how plants grow in different plots. The results also help farmers find ways to develop plant and soil resilience in a changing climate.

At long term study sites, both changes in soil storage and nutrient emissions are studied. The work has started this summer.

At the intensive study sites, soil analysis, microbiological analysis, atmospheric measurements, and modeling are used to study the fluxes and sequestration of carbon. Through the Carbon Action co-operation, existing study sites have been further developed (Qvidja, Viikki, Kilpiä, and Ruukki), and new ones are being established together with the University of Helsinki. In addition, long-term field experiment has been established in Viikki to study how biodiversity impacts the ability of fields to store carbon (4).

Carbon Action is developing a scientifically ambitious measurement and verification system (5, 6). The verification system uses extensively collected data and can model and predict carbon sequestration even in areas where measurement data are scarce. A Field Observatory has been created to illustrate the methods developed in the project and the results obtained from them. The Observatory is an open-access online platform for visualizing measurement data from 20 pilot Carbon farms and intensive study sites, as well as the results of carbon calculations. On a societal level, scientific verification provides a basis for agricultural and climate policy instruments and a possible carbon credit market.

Companies: Businesses have great potential in driving the adoption of regenerative farming. There are currently nine companies in the Carbon Action company platform and new ones are coming aboard.

To make carbon sequestration mainstream, businesses are needed to bring about substantial changes and to embed them permanently in the food supply chain. Businesses also communicate the message to consumers. Cooperation between the scientific community and companies is important so that science can produce solutions that are necessary and can be implemented in practice. The results of the scientific community are of interest to participating companies, as companies need to be able to base their sustainability work on researched knowledge. In the project, the companies also learn about the farmers’ needs and farmers learn about the expectations of the companies.

On the business platform, the focus is on concrete changes in the way companies operate. For example, ValioAtria, and Altia are training their farmers in carbon farming. The sourcing of raw materials will change extensively as companies bring the principles of carbon farming into their sourcing criteria – as Altia, Apetit, and Fazer have committed to do. The first carbon farmed product has been launched by Altia, and Sinebrychoff is preparing a carbon farmed beer. Gofore aims to support Carbon Action by harnessing digitalization for regenerative agriculture. Berner develops its product portfolio so that it supports farming methods that promote soil health and carbon sequestration. The S-group supports Carbon Action research, as scientific verification of soil carbon storage is one of the missing steps in advancing carbon offsets.

At BSAG, we are constantly considering other ways in which companies can leverage the methods developed in the project to build a more sustainable business, create new business, and develop new products. There is a willingness among companies to do more. We have also invited investors and other financiers to join us in the work.

Decision-makers:  The work of Carbon Action has influenced national decision-making on many levels. For example, the government program (7) and its implementation emphasizes soil carbon sequestration. We are active in working groups that prepare the national CAP strategic plan. The issue was also well on the agenda during Finland’s EU presidency  – both at various events (8) and at the EU agriculture ministers meeting. In the recent climate roadmap of agricultural interest groups (MTK and SLC), the focus is on the soil.

At the EU level, Carbon Action has had an impact on the EU’s Carbon Farming Roundtable. The roundtable discussions started during Finland’s EU presidency, and the meetings have continued to be held regularly. Carbon Action has been visible both as an example and to influence the debate. At the EU level, the emphasis is on the common agricultural policy (CAP). It is important to ensure that the CAP encourages regenerative farming in order to promote climate, biodiversity, and water quality issues. In addition, voluntary carbon farming markets are piloted in collaboration with the Carbon Action platform (9). The pilot is conducted during the year 2021.

International networks: Systemic change in the field of agriculture is in progress globally. Cooperation and co-development with international regenerative agriculture networks is important for Carbon Action. Carbon Action has been well noticed as part of the forerunner networks. For example, Carbon Action has been invited to speak at the Madrid Climate Conference (4/1000 initiative event) (10). At the moment, we put emphasis on nationally implementing the new 4/1000 Strategic Plan and Horizon Europe mission ’Soil Health and Food’.

Also, Carbon Action is expanding to urban green spaces. BSAG is involved in the City of Helsinki’s ‘Transforming lawns into flower fields and urban farms’ project, which was designed by citizens and voted on to be funded by the OmaStadi budgeting. The goal is to make this a model that can be replicated in other cities.

The success of the Carbon Action work has proved to us that we have hope, and a paradigm change is possible, though not at all easy. We need to cut emissions, put a price on carbon, and make sure that nature can work – ensure that land use is based on the wellbeing of the ecosystem and human activities are regenerative. We need science, politics, NGOs, business, and citizens all aboard. And we need actions, not only words.

  1. Kankaanrinta, S. 2020. Carbon Action can be an example of systemic change. Carbon Action blog 10.3.2020.
  2. Hagelberg, E., Wikström, U., Joona, J. & Mattila, T. 2020. Regenerative Agriculture: the new direction of food production.
  3. Höijer, L. 2020. Systemic change – what does it mean? Carbon Action as an example. Blog 28.9.2020.
  4. Liski, J., Heinonsalo, J, Höijer, L. & Jarva, P. 2020. Plant biodiversity for climate – the TWINWIN project. Poster 1.10.2020. 
  5. Höckerstedt, L. 2020. The development of a carbon sequestration verification system in the MULTA project. Carbon Action blog 15.9.2020.
  6. Fer, I., Gardella, A.K., Shiklomanov, A.N., Campbell, E.E., Cowdery, E.M., De Kauwe, M.G., Desai, A.,  Duveneck, M.J., Fisher, J.B., Haynes K.D., Hoffman, F.M., Johnston, M.R., Kooper, R., LeBauer, D.S.,  Mantooth, J., Parton, W., Poulter, B., Quaife, T., Raiho, A., Schaefer, K., Serbin, S.P, Simkins, J., Wilcox, K.R., Viskari, T & Dietze, M.C. 2020. Beyond Ecosystem Modeling: A Roadmap to Community Cyberinfrastructure for Ecological Data‐Model Integration. Global Change Biology
  7. Höijer, L. 2019. Finnish government programme takes the environmental crises seriously. Blog 10.6.2019.
  8. Höijer, L. 2019. Strategic research as part of Finnish EU presidency. Blog 22.10.2019.
  9. Kähkönen, J. 2020. LIFE CarbonFarmingScheme. Poster 1.10.2020. 
  10. Höijer, L. 2019. Carbon Action at 4/1000 day at Madrid COP25. Blog 16.12.2019

Laura Höijer / BSAG, Eija Hagelberg / BSAG, Michaela Ramm-Schmidt / BSAG, Kaj Granholm / BSAG and Jari Liski / Finnish Meteorological Institute


The preliminary results of the ship survey confirm the importance of the topic: cargo ships discharge grey waters, food waste and treated black waters into the Baltic Sea – legally. This causes an additional nutrient input leading to further eutrophication. Compared to passenger ships, the amounts are small, but cannot be disregarded: all nutrient inputs are detrimental to the Baltic Sea. BSAG is taking urgent actions to raise awareness on board.

Almost third of the ships are not aware of the “No special fee” -system, which indicates that the special features and HELCOM recommendations are not known onboard ships sailing in the Baltic Sea. This fact was noted with concern by HELCOM Maritime Working Group (WG Maritime) online meeting, in which the project Grey waters and food waste ship survey midpoint results were presented in early October 2020.

The findings of the ship survey, active until end of 2020, underway in 12 Finnish ports by several members of Shipbrokers Finland, give interesting new information on cargo ships and their waste treatment:

  • 69% of the ships arrived from another port in the Baltic Sea
  • 20% of the ships have a holding tank only, no treatment plant
  • 66% of the ships discharged grey waters or food waste or treated black waters into the sea enroute Finland
  • nearly all ships discharged food waste ashore, but only 4% discharged treated black waters or grey waters into port reception facilities
  • No special fee -system covered 75% waste discharged ashore (MARPOL Annex I, IV, V)
  • 28% of the ships were not aware of the “No special fee” -system

Elisa Mikkolainen, project director in BSAG, presented the survey and research activities done under the project. In addition to a study done on the Finnish ports, two other studies are being conducted under the project. Samples are taken from cargo ships in order to evaluate the amount of nutrient and bacteria in grey waters, and a survey is done on ships calling at Finnish ports.

Raising awareness on special conditions of the Baltic Sea and No special fee -system

Ships and shipowners must be made aware of the special circumstances of the Baltic Sea, especially ones coming from ports outside the Baltic Sea. To tackle this, BSAG is committed to prepare an information package containing guidance in a compact and visual form to diminish the discharges into the Baltic Sea. This will be done with the Finnish maritime cluster which already supports the project in many ways and is in fact already acting responsibly by discharging all waste to ports. Sustainable practices must be encouraged to other ships sailing in the Baltic Sea.

The project contributes to the goals of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan in regard of eutrophication, hazardous substances and environmentally friendly maritime activities. The WG Maritime works to prevent any pollution from ships, including deliberate operational discharges as well as accidental pollution.

”The project run by BSAG supports Finland’s goals in developing the Baltic Sea Action Plan”, comments Laura Sarlin, Senior Specialist at Ministry of Transports and Communications. “The survey organized by BSAG and Shipbrokers Finland shows that discharges into the Baltic Sea take place from majority of cargo ships. Further, according to the survey, it is clear that the special features of the Baltic Sea are not fully understood onboard the ships. Therefore, we welcome the idea by BSAG to deliver an information package to ships sailing in the Baltic Sea.”

Read more about the project

BSAG’s two year Grey waters in maritime traffic -project receives funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund’s Finnish Operational Program 2014–2020.


Altia continues its collaboration with the Baltic Sea Action Group by renewing its Baltic Sea commitment. As part of the commitment Altia will provide training in regenerative farming practices to all of its contract farmers. Altia is a major buyer of barley in Finland and with this commitment Altia wants to support the adoption of more environmentally friendly farming practices. 

Altia has worked with the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG) already for five years. The updated commitment extends Altia’s objectives and introduces new tools for promoting regenerative agriculture. 

In 2018, as part of its Baltic Sea Commitment, Altia joined BSAG’s Carbon Action pilot project together with selected contract farmers. The contract farmers participated in the pilot by reserving parts of their fields for research on the effects farming practices have on soil. Altia handled the cost of the soil sample analyses and committed to communicating about Carbon Action to its farmers and other stakeholders. In the winter of 2020, a very successful event on carbon farming was organized for Altia’s contract farmers. 

In its expanded commitment, Altia will investigate how the best practices of regenerative farming could be integrated into its purchasing criteria by 2025. Altia will provide training in regenerative farming practices to its contract farmers – the aim is that all Altia’s contact farmers would have completed the training by 2025. Altia also supports BSAG’s work with annual donations.    

“Bringing regenerative farming into purchasing criteria and at the same time providing training to support contract farmers is ambitious practical work, even among responsible companies,” says Michaela Ramm-Schmidt, CEO of BSAG.  

In addition to food production, regenerative agriculture improves soil health, increases carbon stocks, supports biodiversity and reduces nutrient runoffs that cause water eutrophication. Regenerative farming can also increase yields, creating financial benefits for farmers from this important environmental work.  

“Altia buys over 200 million kilos of Finnish barley from about 1,500 farms annually, so it’s clear that the impact will be significant if we’re able to support our farmers in improving soil health and its resilience to extreme weather,” says Kari Kiltilä, Altia’s Category Sourcing Manager. “Climate change cannot be stopped in Finland’s fields alone but doing our own share of the work and setting a good example for others is still important. And the effects on the local environment can be significant”, Kiltilä continues. 

“This co-operation with Altia is important to us. It clearly shows how every stakeholder in the food system can make a difference. For us it’s important that food producer work together with the primary producers and understand that in the long run, both will benefit”, says Michaela Ramm-Schmidt. “The Baltic Sea is our end customer, and in climate actions that affect the soil, the sea benefits both from nutrient-retaining fields and, ultimately, from actions that mitigate climate change”, says Ramm-Schmidt 


Join our breakfast webinar, hosted by MEP Elsi Katainen (Renew Europe) and MEP Jytte Guteland (S&D) and Baltic Sea Action Group, to learn more about the importance of healthy soil in mitigating climate change, promoting biodiversity, securing clean waters and building resilience in food production. Our speakers will share their expertise and the newest insights into the topic gained, not solely through research, but also through developing farming practices and incorporating them into business. You will also learn about the co-operative process of scaling up carbon farming and regenerative agriculture.

Webinar is streamed on Youtube, please click here.
You can take part in the discussion and ask questions on
1) Youtube chat
2) Twitter: hashtag for the webinar #CarbonAction. You can also tag the organizer @BSAG_

SOIL CARBON BREAKFAST WEBINAR

29th Oct. 2020 9.00–10.30 CET and 10.00–11.30 CEST

Hosted by Elsi Katainen, MEP, Renew Europe and  Jytte Guteland, MEP, S&D
Moderated by Laura Höijer, Content Director, Baltic Sea Action Group

Opening
Elsi Katainen, MEP, Renew Europe

Scaling carbon farming and regenerative agriculture.
Together: scientists – farmers – companies
Saara Kankaanrinta, Chair of the board, Baltic Sea Action Group and Carbon Action platform

Science: Soil carbon verification system nearing completion.
Jari Liski, Research Professor, Finnish meteorological institute

Farmers: Carbon farming practices and a farmer’s message for CAP.
Juuso Joona, Regenerative Farmer, Tyynelä Farm

Companies: Valio’s roadmap to Carbon neutral milk chain by 2035.
Juha Nousiainen, SVP Carbon Neutral Milk Chain, Valio

Discussion

Closing words
 Jytte Guteland, MEP, S&D

Register here by October 28 2020.

For more information contact Pieta Jarva, BSAG, pieta.jarva@bsag.fi.


Gofore Plc and the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG) have begun three years of cooperation aimed at harnessing digitalisation to develop solutions based on regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture, which sequestrates carbons, has major potential to mitigate climate change.

Gofore has made a commitment to the Baltic Sea, contributing its efforts and expertise in data-enabled technologies to help achieve BSAG’s objectives. A particular aim is to expedite work done via the Carbon Action platform to intensify soil carbon sequestration and reduce water pollution. Gofore’s Baltic Sea commitment is valid from 2020 to 2022.

“The potential of digitalisation should be much more extensively harnessed in meeting the challenges of sustainable development. At Gofore, we want to be a pioneer in this”, says Kristiina Härkönen, Chief Sustainability Officer at Gofore.

“Modern ways of collecting, processing and presenting data could improve the scalability of the methods developed in the Carbon Action project. This will make the benefits of regenerative agriculture, which are still mainly hidden, clear to all parties. In addition, we can use various service design methods to help people grasp the big picture”, Härkönen explains.

Gofore will also participate in Carbon Action corporate collaboration as part of its Baltic Sea commitment. Its operating principle is cooperation that enlists the efforts of all participants, involving the sharing of research findings, development of carbon farming, and making the food system more climate-friendly. Gofore’s expertise in designing and developing soil carbon sequestration data and data-enabled technologies is invaluable for the platform.

“There is a lot of data in the food system, and more data is being continuously generated through activities such as research. Many actors, from farmers and public authorities to businesses and consumers, need such data to improve their activities, but it is often dispersed between systems. Gofore can use its expertise in digitalisation and service design to help organise data, making it both readily available and understandable to users”, says Michaela Ramm-Schmidt, Managing Director of BSAG.

Kristiina Härkönen is delighted that Gofore is part of the Carbon Action network.

“The methods developed by the network not only give hope in the fight against climate change, but also promote the preservation of biodiversity, protection of waterways, and sustainable food production. It’s fascinating to see how many areas of expertise Carbon Action brings together. This is an opportunity to develop our understanding of how to solve systemic challenges through network-like activities. It will also provide our employees with an opportunity to contribute to important sustainable development activities”, says Kristiina Härkönen.

In addition to expert assistance and cooperation between businesses, Gofore is committed to providing separately defined, annual funding in support of BSAG’s activities.

Gofore Plc is a digitalisation specialist which aims at international growth. We have over 700 leading experts — who are the heart, brains and hands of our company — located in Finland, Germany, Spain and Estonia. Everything we do, whether it is management consulting, design or coding, has a positive impact. We care about people, communities and organisations in our work. Our operations are guided by our strong values: we provide all our staff with a good workplace and thrive on the success of our customers. We had net sales of EUR 64.1 million in 2019. Gofore Plc’s share is quoted on the Nasdaq First North Growth Finland marketplace. Find out more about us at https://gofore.com/en/.

The Baltic Sea Action Group (Elävä Itämeri säätiö) is a non-profit foundation founded in Finland in 2008. BSAG aims to restore the ecological balance of the Baltic Sea in the face of climate change. The extensive Carbon Action platform assembled by BSAG is seeking ways of accelerating carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into arable land, and of scientifically verifying such sequestration. Carbon farming is a way of managing soil and safeguarding sustainable food production. Carbon Action brings scientists, farmers and companies together to promote carbon sequestration and holistic farming. Healthy soil binds carbon and effectively retains water, solids and nutrients, reducing nutrient run-off into the Baltic Sea and other waterways.  


The major goal of the Carbon Action platform is a systemic change toward regenerative agriculture. This change also plays a central part in the efforts to achieve a carbon-neutral society and a sustainable food system.

We have made very good progress in Carbon Action – relying heavily on research and working closely with key stakeholders. Our aim is to achieve systemic change. But what does this mean? Could systemic change be described with the help of a picture?

Whenever I think about systemic change, I am reminded of a presentation by Per Mickwitz, a former research director colleague at Finland’s environmental administration. He presented a model created by Geels and Schot (Figure 1). The model highlights how we need to proceed step by step – as long as the steps lead in the right direction. Systemic change is a challenge of such magnitude, that we must go about it one step (or project) at a time. As long as we keep the big picture in mind and stay on the right path toward our goal:

Figure 1A multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions. According to the model, the interaction between the landscape, regime, and niche innovations allows for system change. The incompatibility of the landscape and regime acts as a “driver” that creates pressure for regime reform and the breakthrough of new innovations at the regime level. (source: original Geels & Schot 2007).

How would this apply to the Carbon Action platform? In their outstanding report, Valovirta et al. 2011 have applied the model. Utilizing their report, I applied the model to Carbon Action.

The model consists of three dimensions

  1. dimension: regime: a set of policies, interpretative frameworks, and problem-solving models that are considered self-evident. The regime can be divided into five dimensions: A technological regime (self-awareness of actors such as companies: what we are, and why we are doing the things we do), science regime (rules and policies of the science system), policy regime (administrative models), socio-cultural regimes (societal values), user and market regimes (rules for the market formation and creation). In the Carbon Action model, the regime consists of agriculture in the broadest sense – the goal being a shift from the conventional agricultural model to a regenerative model.
  2. dimension: landscape that includes a wide range of societal developments. The regime’s operating models are not necessarily compatible with the changing landscape. The landscape may thus affect the regime in a way that opens a “window of opportunity” for efforts to reform the regime or even form an entirely new regime. Big ecological drivers for change (VNK 2019) in Carbon Action are climate change, the state of the environment and nature, and the sustainability of natural resource use.
  3. dimension: the development of new models of operating outside the current regime. As these new models strengthen and merge with other parallel reform efforts, they may form a “dominant model” that can change the prevailing regime as the “window of opportunity” opens. In the Carbon Action model, this includes the projects and activities of the Carbon Action platform, as well as other parallel activities aimed towards regenerative agriculture. Cooperating on a large scale with other stakeholders and influencing decision-making are also parts of the Carbon Action operating model. BSAG coordinates the Carbon Action platform, aiming to support and steer the various projects and activities of the platform in the same direction – to ensure we stay on the path.

It is also good to note that the regime is constantly “dynamically stable” (Nieminen et al. 2011). Even within the regime, in this case in conventional agriculture, constant renewal is present. However, renewal within the regime does not necessarily change the patterns, values, and beliefs that make up the regime, but rather adapt it to the ever-changing landscape. The regime may then also assimilate new insights and practices from the outside, but the changes will take place within the framework defined by the prevailing regime. My interpretation is, that at the moment, we are at that stage.

At some point, however, the operation of the regime and the changes in the landscape may come to a broader state of incompatibility, bringing the whole regime into crisis. This opens up a “window of opportunity” for the development of a new regime. In the Carbon Action model, I set the goal that change has been achieved by 2035 in Finland – which is the year that Finland aims to become carbon neutral (Figure 2).

To be able to comprehend what the change means, all three levels need to be taken into account (Nieminen et al. 2011). The aim is that small changes in the system lead to large-scale changes at the system level over a longer period. What is essential is to enable interaction, communication, and mutual learning between stakeholders inside and outside the regime. The more stakeholders are involved and committed, the more defined the path towards change becomes. This is the strength of the work carried out on the Carbon Action platform. Stakeholders on the Carbon Action platform – farmers, advisors, researchers, companies, and decision-makers – learn together and co-create. Cooperation with international regenerative agriculture networks is also important. Systemic change in the field of agriculture is in progress globally.

The path of change must be based on research data. An example of this is the development of a scientifically ambitious measurement and verification system in Carbon Action. The system can help us determine the amount of carbon stored in the soil. The verification of changes in the carbon stocks makes it possible for farmers to monitor how these cultivation methods affect the soil. Companies in the food supply chain are interested in the carbon footprint of production. On a societal level, scientific verification provides a basis for agricultural and climate policy instruments and a possible carbon credit market.

FIGURE 2Carbon Action interpreted through a model of socio-technical change (adapted from Geels & Schot 2007)

It’s important to make sure that the steps taken are effective enough – so that we are able to scale up the actions. Bottlenecks also need to be identified and addressed. On the Carbon Action platform, we identified that training skillful advisors had become a bottleneck in our work. Together with the support of Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki and other key actors, we launched a targeted training for agricultural advisors. We have gained new carbon farmers through business cooperation (see below) and through the Carbon Action Club – which is open for all farmers – and by expanding towards the Swedish-speaking farmers in Finland. The lack of resources is often a hindrance for face to face meetings and information exchange. That is why we are also developing platforms for digital learning. We will start working on digital learning on a larger scale this autumn. It is a big step forward.

To bring about systemic change, the Carbon Action business platform is key. Through their actions, companies can guide both the work of farmers and consumer choices. For example, Valio trains its dairy farmers to become carbon farmers. Also, the sourcing of raw materials will change extensively as companies bring the principles of carbon farming into their sourcing criteria – as Apetit and Fazer have committed to do.

Systemic change is also based on interaction and co-development with global pioneering networks. Carbon Action has been well noticed as part of the forerunner networks. For example, Carbon Action has been invited to speak at the EU Round Table in Brussels, and the Madrid Climate Conference (4/1000 initiative event). This year, of course, the corona situation has posed its challenges – international cooperation has been promoted through distance meetings.

What are the big challenges on our path? The biggest challenge seems to be to change the policy regime – especially agricultural policy. We are putting a lot of effort into this on many levels, but changing it requires patience and persistence. Changes are slow and there are many obstacles along the way.

Laura Höijer

Content Director, Baltic Sea Action Group

REFERENCES:

Carbon Action/stn MULTA project impact reports (in Finnish)

Geels, F. W. & Schot, J. 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy 36, 399–417.

Nieminen, M., Valovirta, V. & Pelkonen, A. 2011. Systemic innovations and socio-technological change. Literature review.  VTT Releases – Research Notes 2593 (abstract in English)

Valovirta, V., Nieminen, M., Pelkonen, A., Turkama, P., Heikura, T., Lindman, J., Inkinen, S. & Kaivo-oja, J. 2011. The challenges of systemic changes and possibilities of new innovation. Tekes Review 286/2011. Tekes (Business Finland) (abstract in English)

VNK (Prime Minister’s Office) 2019. Drivers for change in the global environment, The drivers for change cards


 

Saara Kankaanrinta and Carbon Action have been nominated for the Nordic Council Environment Prize.  The prize goes to a company, organization, or individual for exemplary efforts to integrate respect for the environment into their business or work or for some other form of extraordinary initiative on behalf of the environment.

The prize has been awarded since 1995 alongside other Nordic Council prizes, such as the Literature Prize. The theme of the 2020 Environment Prize is biodiversity and its importance as a source of well-being and a prerequisite for life. The jury selects initiatives from the first round of nominations that have significantly contributed to biodiversity.

Carbon Action aims to promote and scientifically verify soil carbon sequestration by agricultural practices. In Carbon Action, biodiversity is both a goal and a means: a field with a diverse ecosystem is more sustainable and sequesters carbon efficiently.

Saara Kankaanrinta is the originator of Carbon Action, which has grown into an internationally unique platform that includes 100 farms, several research projects, and companies in the food supply chain. Carbon farming alongside food production will mitigate climate change and advance food security as extreme weather conditions increase. Healthy soil is full of life and its structure retains nutrients for plant use and reduces the eutrophication in waters.

“Combining the work for mitigating climate change, the Baltic Sea, and actions toward advancing biodiversity and reversing the agricultural paradigm is crucial. Because we have top scientists, enthusiastic farmers, and pioneering companies involved, we can work together to make a big impact. That is why the international networks are very interested in our results “, says Kankaanrinta.

“The nomination is, of course, an honour, and, it applies to the entire consortium. The Finnish Meteorological Institute coordinates the research, which involves many research institutes. And without open-minded farmers, we would be in danger of staying on a theoretical level or producing good but practically useless solutions on paper. This demonstrates the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, Kankaanrinta concludes.

The Environment Prize is the only Nordic Council prize that can be nominated by anyone. This year, a record number of Nordics have seized the opportunity. Next, the National Prize Boards will select their nominees for the final competition based on the proposals. The Nordic Prize Committee will meet, and the winner will be announced on 27 October 2020.

 


News on the Bain collaboration

BAIN EMPLOYS ITS EXPERTISE FOR THE BALTIC SEA

We received an interesting proposal from Bain & Company last fall. Bain wanted to offer BSAG its expertise to develop our operations on a pro bono basis. Bain was familiar to us as a pro-bono partner from previous years, so it was easy to take up on the offer.

“This kind of collaboration is very important to Bain. Both in terms of the fact that we want to do our part to help society and the environment, and also because of the personal interest and enthusiasm of the employees. Our way of collaborating is to bring Bain & Company’s know-how to innovative partners that make a real impact, such as BSAG”, says Jani Kelloniemi, Bain’s partner.

The first project was the development and clarification of BSAG’s business cooperation concept. We thought this could be a meaningful topic for Bain. For BSAG, this was a timely issue that we had been considering for a while, and we needed an outside sparring partner.

Bain offered the means for this project with a strong team that worked intensively and very enthusiastically for several weeks all through winter and spring. Various background studies, surveys and interviews were conducted, which provided a lot of useful material for the development of our business cooperation. Indeed, many of our partners received various contacts from Bain and we want to thank everyone involved for the valuable input!

We refined the information further together in workshops and several discussions. A huge number of new ideas were hatched within the enthusiastic group. As a cherry on top, the work was also very inspiring and fun. At BSAG we also learned a lot and identified needs for improvement.

At the same time, we were also able to conclude that BSAG’s activities and the basic idea of ​​business cooperation will stand the test of time and are likely to be even more in demand in the future. With a defined and even more ambitious presentation of our activities, we are able to provide even more added value to companies in various industries. This way, we help companies to improve the state of the Baltic Sea in the long term and create good business at the same time.

 

“The Baltic Sea can be helped in many ways. Assistance may take the form of donations, the development of one’s own business activities or the providing of expertise pro bono to develop the activities of a Baltic Sea NGO. The close cooperation project with Bain early this year represents pro bono collaboration at its best. We are very grateful that Bain offered its extensive network, high level expertise and vast experience for us to use. The result of the cooperation is extremely valuable and useful to us”, says Michaela Ramm-Schmidt, CEO of BSAG.

“Both the core team that worked together with BSAG and the entire office that participated in brainstorming were really excited about the collaboration and the impact that was achieved with BSAG,” Jani Kelloniemi continues.

To ensure business continuity, every organization must constantly improve its performance. It does not always happen on its own and often examination done by an outsider is needed. However, BSAG is an NGO that runs on donations and project money and therefore does not have the means to purchase external consulting services. A carefully selected and tailored pro bono partnership is therefore a great way to help us help the Baltic Sea.


To mitigate climate change, we need to dramatically curb emissions. But that is not enough. In addition, we need to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The only know technique to remove carbon in a large scale is the nature: photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide naturally.

Trees and plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it to the soil. Soils store more carbon than the earth’s atmosphere and all its plants and animals combined. Soil also has 25% of all the biodiversity of the earth, and diversity above is intrinsically connected to diversity underground. So, we need to manage the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis together.

The amount of carbon on the planet is finite. It’s the same now as it always has been. it’s a question of where carbon is and in what form. Carbon and hydrological cycles should be in balance. To ensure this, we need functioning ecosystems.

Human activities affecting soil processes can lead to carbon loss or improved storage. In Finland, we are running an ambitious platform called Carbon Action to enhance the soil carbon sequestration. We wanted to create a globally useful pilot example of paradigm change needed in the food chain. Global food security is at stake too, as we need to find farming methods with which we can produce food for the growing population.

Carbon Action is a platform for systemic change. The platform is a large multi-disciplinary network of researchers, farmers, companies and NGOs. The aim is to speed up the paradigm shift from destructive agricultural practices to regenerative practices that build soil, sequester carbon, nurture biodiversity, keep nutrients away from water bodies and enhance farmer’s profitability. At the same time, we make food production more resilient in the changing climate.

The Carbon Action platform has several funders and hosts several projects. The platform enables close cooperation between projects. The holistic approach is awakening interest also internationally.

An important objective is to develop a practical quantification and verification system of carbon sequestration and climate impacts. This is done by combining various measurements and modeling, and requires a lot of interdisciplinary research.

Verification is essential in order to make climate policy or create result-based incentives for the farmers. And as EU is developing its Common Agricultural Policy, we should make sure it steers the system towards regenerative practices and produces public goods together with food.

We need actions in the field and among real farmers at the same time. Our 100 pilot Carbon Farms test practices and collect experiences including effects on soil health and yields. Detailed field experiments study the impacts on carbon fluxes and sequestration, enhance the professional knowhow and motivation of the farmer. Companies are interested in this too as it helps them develop their supply chains and respond to increasing consumer demand for sustainable products. Business has a lot of possibilities to speed up the regenerative practices.

Success of the Carbon Action work has proved us that we have hope and a paradigm change is possible, though not at all easy. To stress my key message once again: we need to mitigate climate change and stop the biodiversity loss. These two crises go hand in hand. We need to cut emissions, put a price on carbon and make sure that nature can work – ensure that land use is based on wellbeing of the ecosystem and human activities are regenerative. We need science, politics, NGOs, business and citizens all aboard. And we need actions, not only words.

 

Saara Kankaanrinta

Chair of the Board and Founder
Baltic Sea Action Group
Carbon Action


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