The 4 per 1000 Initiative

The 4 per 1000 Initiative


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The 4 per 1000 Initiative – Soils for Food Security and Climate promotes an innovative model for mitigating climate change, through the annual increase in soil organic carbon by 0.4 per cent in the top 30-40 cm of agricultural soils. The increase rate of CO2 in the atmosphere could be reduced, while improving soil health, strengthening essential ecosystems and contributing to food security. The Initiative encourages farming techniques, which combat soil erosion and improve soil health, and hence stands for a transition towards sustainable agricultural production and development. With this initiative, agriculture takes centre stage in combating climate change, and more food is produced. For its noteworthy achievement in changing the discourse concerning the role soils, and thus agriculture, can play in climate change mitigation, the 4 per 1000 Initiative received the Future Policy Vision Award in 2017, awarded by the World Future Council in partnership with the UNCCD.

At a Glance
  • Soil degradation poses a severe threat to more than 40 per cent of the Earth’s land, which has disastrous consequences for food security and for mitigating climate change.
  • The 4 per 1000 Initiative was launched by France in 2015, during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • It communicates a new concept for mitigating climate change through the annual increase in soil organic carbon, since even small changes in the soil carbon pool can have large-scale effects both on agricultural productivity and on greenhouse gas balance. Hence in the discussions on climate change mitigation and adaptation, agriculture should be part of the solution rather than a problem.
  • The Initiative encourages a transition towards sustainable agricultural production and development and promotes in particular farming techniques which combat soil erosion and improve soil health, such as agro-ecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture or landscape management.
  • Whilst over 160 organisations signed the Declaration of Intent in Paris in December 2015, as of May 2017, 34 countries, including many European countries, Australia, Mexico and Ethiopia, have become partners, as well as numerous international organizations, research institutions, producers’ organisations, NGOs, development partners, foundations and businesses.
Policy Reference
Connected Policies

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Unites Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

UNFCCC, Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA)

Selection as a Future-Just Policy

Soil degradation poses a severe threat to more than 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface and climate disruption is accelerating the process. This has disastrous consequences for food security. Furthermore, soil is an important carbon sink and can play a key role in tackling climate change.

The 4 per 1000 (4PT) is an international, awareness raising, high-level political initiative launched by France during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It communicates a new concept for mitigating climate change through the annual increase in soil organic carbon by 0.4 per cent in the top 30-40 cm of the agricultural soils, which could strongly reduce the increase rate of CO2 in the atmosphere. A 4 per 1000 annual growth rate of the soil carbon stock would thus make it possible to help limit the average global temperature increase to +1.5/2°C. It encourages a paradigm shift in agricultural practice, promoting farming techniques that control soil erosion and improve soil health, which would help foster important land and soil functions, and thereby contribute to climate stability and food security.

When presented at COP21 of the UNFCC the concept was immediately backed by more than 20 European ministers and further high-ranking politicians from other countries. The Initiative has a holistic, systemic approach, involves numerous stakeholders, and established appropriate and effective governance to implement its objectives. Even though the Initiative is fairly recent, it has received high-level endorsement and support internationally within a very short time. For its unique design and its important achievement in changing the discourse concerning the role soils, and thus agriculture, can play in climate change mitigation, the 4 per 1,000 Initiative received a Future Policy Vision Award in 2017.

Future-Just Policy Scorecard

Our “Best Policies” are those which meet the Future-Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise that interrelated challenges require interconnected solutions. The World Future Council’s unique research and analysis ensures that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are coherently considered by policy-makers.

   Sustainable use of natural resources

  • 4 per 1000 (4PT) has a holistic, systemic approach. It focuses on carbon storage and the ecosystem approach protecting soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity, whilst additionally improving food security. This is key to stopping land degradation. Its unprecedented attention on soil will have positive effects on all other natural resources. The Initiative urges a greater budget to be dedicated to soil and grasslands.
  • 4PT has a light structure and is thus not costly in functioning.
  • It is a double sense initiative – top down, giving advice to farmers, and bottom up, enabling farmers to share good practices and their knowledge. Very importantly, farmers are also involved in the research programme.

   Equity and poverty eradication

  • To eliminate poverty, food security is crucial. Healthy soils are the basis for food security, being a source of development and being more resilient to climate change. By making agriculture more profitable and stabilising farmers on their own land, the Initiative helps local and indigenous communities and decreases migration.
  • 4PT works on a voluntary basis with stakeholders.
  • The 4PT has safeguards targets to avoid harmful impact on the right to food, access to land, welfare and well-being. In addition, NGOs have to represent 30% of members and partners.
  • The Initiative seeks to include women in every step of the process.

   Precautionary approach

  • 4PT is evidence-based, backed by more than 65 scientific institutions.
  • It is an open and inclusive initiative, in which all members and partners can communicate and raise any concerns.
  • One critical point for the solutions promoted by 4PT is to ensure that environmental considerations are not forgotten when it comes to carbon storage. Its systemic approach is key.

   Public participation, access to information and justice

  • The Initiative was designed in an inclusive and participatory way; stakeholders were consulted, including civil society.
  • The partnership and membership were designed with caution. Whilst NGOs represent 30% of the members and partners, farmers organisations represent about 15%. Private businesses and others can be part of the initiative but not members of the Consortium where decisions are taken, to avoid private interests taking over environmental benefits.
  • The Initiative’s website will soon function as a collaborative platform to enable discussions and exchanges among actors, and it will also include a digital resource centre.
  • The Initiative is transparent to all those who are interested. Partners and members also play a role in communication and awareness raising, since soil degradation impacts are not well-known.
  • 4PT is originating from scientific groups, but the real call for it came from small groups and farmers, with support from UNFCCC and UNCCD, who were concerned about soils’ role in adaption and mitigation of climate change.
  • In general, stakeholders are already well represented in 4PT’s Consortium, the initiative’s decision-making body, but more countries and organisations need to join.

    Good governance and human security

  • The governance text was discussed with all stakeholders and its elaboration was transparent. All decisions are consensus based, hence any member can block.
  • Concerning conflict resolution, if on a technical issue, the Scientific and Technical Committee (STC), the Initiative’s advisory body, will be asked to evaluate and decide. Each STC member has to sign a declaration on the conflict of interest.
  • Farmers are involved and invited to give their expertise, exactly as the scientists and policymakers; however more resources need to be invested to enable this process.

   Integration and interrelationship

  • The Initiative is embedded in the overall vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Agriculture links strongly to economic development. Promoting carbon in soil helps to increase its fertility and overall health, which will provide positive economic outcomes.
  • The 4PT Initiative is environmentally, socially and technically necessary, as it promotes the right environmental management on a critical issue which has previously been much neglected – soil and secondly, healthy soils, also bring strong social benefits.

   Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • There is an urgent need to work on soil management and conservation. The current scientific knowledge is not sufficient and this is one of the Initiative’s main drivers.
  • On a global scale, there are diverse soil situations, dependent on many factors, therefore the Initiative is well adapted and appropriate. Small-scale farmers have a strong knowledge which scientists have to take into account. This Initiative brings the two communities together. Hence the outcome will not be one policy or practice that fits all, but solutions that pay due regard to traditions and culture.
  • By improving soil fertility and food security the implementation of the Initiative’s aims will contribute to reducing inequalities among populations and migration.

The 4 per 1000 Initiative was officially launched on 1 December 2015 in Paris during the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with the signing of a joint declaration between all stakeholders. According to the 4PT Declaration of Intent, by signing the declaration of intention, over 160 organisations have given an undertaking “to put in place a formal governance structure through an inclusive and transparent process, guaranteeing fair participation by the various stakeholders and taking into consideration the need to collaborate with existing, relevant initiatives by seeking synergies with them on soil health issues, wherever possible”.

The Initiative did not appear on the official agenda of the negotiations in Paris, but was part of the Lima-Paris Agenda for Action (LPAA), which aimed to give a voice to all public and private actors, including local authorities, businesses, investors and civil society organisations, to promote their climate initiatives outside the UNFCCC official negotiations. LPAA was composed of more than 70 initiatives that are carried out by 10,000 actors from 180 countries and concerned issues such as forestry, agriculture, resilience, transport, construction, private finance, short-lived pollutants, energy efficiency, renewable energies and innovation. 4PT was recognized as one of the six initiatives of the agricultural component of the Lima-Paris Agenda for Action.

4PT’s lead proponent, Stephane le Foll, the French Minister of Agriculture, Agroalimentaire and Forests, received the distinguished service medal of the International Union of Soil Scientists in January 2017.


The Initiative seeks to address the following three issues:

  • Improvement of food security by enhancing soil fertility and combating land degradation
  • Adaptation of agriculture to climate change
  • Mitigation of climate change.

The aim of the Initiative is to improve levels of organic matter and foster carbon sequestration in soils through the implementation of farming methods appropriate to, and reflecting local conditions, including criteria relating to environmental, social and economic issues. The Initiative contributes to the preservation of rich soils and the restoration of vulnerable, desertified soils. It also respects existing legitimate land tenure rights, including informal rights, and their holders, consistent with the voluntary guidelines for responsible governance of land tenure regimes applied to land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security and the principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems.

The Initiative aims to strengthen existing synergies between the three Rio Conventions – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – and the Committee for Food Security (CFS), the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in line with the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Methods of Implementation

The overall coordination is being overseen by the 4PT Secretariat, whilst the implementation is carried out by different members and partners: international organisation, States, research institutions, producers’ organizations, NGOs, development partners, foundations and businesses.

Initiated by the scientific community, the Initiative is being developed in a unique transparent process involving partners of all kinds, including small farmers. Stakeholders commit to a voluntary action plan to maintain and enhance soil carbon stock. 4PT hence encourages appropriate (agroecological) farming methods, which should be implemented, financed and strengthened via policies, research and training, and shows the way for a transition towards sustainable agricultural production and development.

To achieve its goals, the Initiative’s partners cooperate with a view to:

  • Create a multi-actor platform to reinforce exchanges, partnerships, and capitalisation on experience between actors, organised around the execution of concrete actions. The collaborative work focuses in particular on the sharing of information; the exchange of good practice; the design of projects and policies; and the promotion or funding of programmes.
  • Develop a system for collective project expertise based on a set of reference criteria compliant with the Initiative’s principles and goals;
  • Define and implement a system aimed at facilitating project funding, based on the previous actions;
  • Build an international programme of scientific research and cooperation for 4 per 1000 deployed along four parallel lines: spatialized knowledge of the mechanisms and potential for organic carbon sequestration in soils; knowledge, definition and co-construction of agronomic and forestry practices at different scales with the aim of achieving the goals of the Initiative; definition and evaluation of measures promoting the adoption or transition to the above practices; and design and implementation of straightforward methods for monitoring changes in soil carbon content.
  • Create a digital resource centre on the Initiative’s topics, to make scientific data and results, training resources and practice guides available to the public.

4PT’s governance has been progressively structured and, by 2016, four bodies had been established: a Secretariat, a Consultative Body (partners), an interdisciplinary, gender-balanced Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee consisting of 14 scientists from all parts of the world who have  field experience in the Global South, , and a Consortium of members that serves as a decision-making body. The next step is for the Consortium to approve a Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) as the host of the initiative and to agree the framework criteria to evaluate 4PT projects, pilot projects can then begin.


Although the Initiative’s implementation has just begun, there are notable achievements, such as the high level of international endorsement, a strong move towards adopting the Initiative into policies, establishment of a scientific committee, and a change of thinking within the UNFCCC.  As of May 2017, 34 countries, including many European countries, Australia, Mexico and Ethiopia, were partners of the 4PT , as well as numerous international organizations (including the UN FAO and Global Water Partnership), research institutions, producers’ organizations, NGOs, including IFOAM, Organic Consumers International, Foundation Earth and Biovision, development partners, foundations and businesses. Especially farmers’ organisations around the world mobilise for the Initiative, which brings recognition of the role of agriculture in climate change mitigation and embeds farmers’ knowledge in research. The Initiative has been path-breaking in changing the discourse and improving awareness on soil health.

Potential as a Transferable Model

The Initiative is open to all stakeholders. Prominent individuals, such as The Prince of Wales, have urged governments to join. Soil organic carbon actions committed by the Initiative’s partners are shared on UNFCCC’s Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) platform. France has announced that its 4PT commitment is the promotion of agroecological practices.  Finland has already showcased pilot testing projects on the ground, such as a network of nutrient and energy-effective school farms. Various other pilot programmes are being undertaken at the farm level. There are also cross influences; in India, a recent massive policy initiative will introduce soil health cards that look at fertility.

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