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.

“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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