Arid lands in EU MED areas are increasing in extension year by year, as it is well documented by many studies of International Institutions (as EC-JRC, EEA, etc). EU MED farmers face the dramatic effects of extended drought conditions, that combined with extreme phenomena as floodings or thunderstorms make economic profitability of agriculture very low or even negative. This is associated with a clearly increasing abandonment rate of agricultural land in EU. The most EU critical areas are located in Spain, but also Greece, Italy and Portugal, as well as in the non-EU Southern rim of the MED basin. Biochar could represent an effective approach to fight desertification, together with other agronomic practices which can vary depending on the specific location or crops. Biochar can be cheaply produced from residual biomass through processes such as slow pyrolysis or hydrothermal carbonization, and its combination with compost obtained from the Organic Fraction of Municipal Solid Waste (OFMSW) or digestate from anaerobic digestion can offer both a short and a medium-to-long term effect in dryland agriculture. These lands, that otherwise would inevitably leave the active utilisation in conventional agriculture, would be suitable for energy crop cultivation, as drought resistant oil crop, well meeting the latest indications in the EC REDII proposal.
Through biochar (and derived product) application, the loss of Utilised Agricultural Land in EU MED drylands can be prevented. From the policy side, it thus makes sense to investigate if existing policies are sufficient to facilitate the wide market deployment of biochar, or if new instruments are needed. Our analysis demonstrates that currently operational EU policies, could be well used to implement biochar related actions in arid lands. However, most often these measures are not transferred into concrete programmes at regional level, especially in the agricultural sector. In fact, EU and Member States already have quite a large number of instruments that can directly or indirectly support actions targeted to increase the resilience of these arid lands to Climate Change, generating a significant impact on the environmental and socio-economic situation. Policy should support initiatives that can provide clear evidences, be cost- and environmentally-effective, and adapted to local conditions. The present work investigated EU/MS policies that could potentially support the improvement of soil resilience to climate change in EU MED region, by enabling widespread diffusion of biochar.
The EU legislative elements that were considered are the EU agricultural policy, the EU Carbon sequestration& storage policy (seen in the framework of the COP21 agreement and its core goals), and the EU renewable energy policy, even if others would also apply. We considered sunflower cultivation in dry land of Central area (Tuscany) of Italy. Results showed that marginal land could be seen as an opportunity to produce low-ILUC biofuels (as mentioned in the EC REDII proposed Directive), without conflicting with food production or generating negative effects on GHG emissions. The Long-term storage of C in the soil through biochar would perfectly match with the Climate strategy defined at International level (Paris COP21 and following). Soil, after ocean, is the second most abundant C sink: Paris-COP21 called for C-negative actions (and not just C-neutral ones). In this respect, the proposed approach would perfectly match with EU (ETS) and International (COP21) policy for the coming decades.