Sustainable Olive Oil Production Helps Mitigate Climate Change

The International Olive Council attended the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) to present research on sustainable olive oil production.

Nov. 18, 2016
By Ylenia Granitto

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Scientific stud­ies have doc­u­mented the pos­i­tive effects of olive grow­ing on the envi­ron­ment. In addi­tion to the role played by the olive tree in safe­guard­ing bio­di­ver­sity, improv­ing soil, and as a bar­rier to deser­ti­fi­ca­tion, there is evi­dence that spe­cific agri­cul­tural prac­tices have the capac­ity to increase the atmos­pheric CO2 fixed in per­ma­nent veg­e­ta­tive struc­tures (bio­mass) and in the soil.

On this basis, the International Olive Council (IOC) was present at the annual cli­mate con­fer­ence COP22, (Conference of the Parties COP to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC), which this year took place in Marrakech, Morocco, November 7 – 18 2016.

COP22 has spe­cial impor­tance after the Paris Agreement, that just entered into force and enshrined the first-ever uni­ver­sal, legally bind­ing global deal to tackle cli­mate change, with the main goal to keep a global tem­per­a­ture rise this cen­tury well below 2°C.”

At the con­fer­ence, 197 Parties (196 States and the European Union) met to turn their promises into action and wound up with a call for the high­est polit­i­cal com­mit­ment to com­bat cli­mate change, as a mat­ter of urgent pri­or­ity.”

In Marrakech, dur­ing a ses­sion enti­tled Olive oil, the liq­uid gold help­ing to reduce green­house gas emis­sions,” the head of the envi­ron­ment R&D depart­ment of the IOC, Francesco Serafini, gave a speech about the role of olive trees and olive oil as a sus­tain­able alter­na­tive to mit­i­gate cli­mate change. One of the IOC deputy direc­tors par­tic­i­pated along­side olive oil and CO2 experts to present results that indi­cate that the pro­duc­tion of olive oil, using the right farm­ing tech­niques, can con­tribute sig­nif­i­cantly to reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

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The olive tree for­est has existed for thou­sands of years. Their fruit and the oil it pro­duces are good for your health but olive trees are also good for the envi­ron­ment,” Serafini told Olive Oil Times. They are a bar­rier to deser­ti­fi­ca­tion and ero­sion. Olive orchards are a CO2 sink, remove CO2 from the atmos­phere and fix it in the soil,” he added, and explained that in the pro­duc­tion of 1 liter of olive oil, olive trees remove 10 kg of CO2 from the atmos­phere.”

In fact, accord­ing to the research pub­lished to date, dur­ing the life cycle of the prod­uct, an aver­age 1.5 kg CO2e is emit­ted into the atmos­phere to pro­duce one liter of vir­gin or extra vir­gin olive oil,” said Serafini.

Francesco Serafini

However, if the proper agri­cul­tural prac­tices are applied, in a mature semi-inten­sive olive orchard with aver­age crop yields, an olive tree can fix 10t CO2e/ha/year, result­ing in a clear pos­i­tive bal­ance.” It can be there­fore demon­strated that, when proper agri­cul­tural prac­tices are applied, the car­bon sink effect of olive trees is much greater than the amount of CO2 emit­ted to pro­duce one prod­uct unit.

In rela­tion to cli­mate change, a sink is any process, activ­ity or mech­a­nism that extracts green­house gasses from the atmos­phere. These gasses include CO2, the con­cen­tra­tion of which has increased expo­nen­tially in recent years and is the main cause of global warm­ing.

During the IOC con­fer­ence, it was remarked that olive trees can be grown in extreme cli­mac­tic con­di­tions, where few other woody crops sur­vive. Seventy per­cent of the world’s olive orchards are rain fed, with­out water from irri­ga­tion and using rain­wa­ter only. In some regions of the Mediterranean, olive trees are grown with barely 200 mm of rain and con­sti­tute an essen­tial source of liveli­hood for many sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion.

Participation of IOC in COP 22 has been a deci­sive oppor­tu­nity to show the world how the pro­duc­tion of olive oil, vir­gin or extra vir­gin, accord­ing to spe­cific agri­cul­tural prac­tices, helps to mit­i­gate the effect of green­house gas emis­sions. It is impor­tant to empha­size that we are talk­ing about not only the log­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit of the olive tree but in par­tic­u­lar the envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit of pro­duc­ing vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil,” Serafini pointed out. Olive trees are part of the solu­tion to cli­mate change.”


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