Olive Trees Can Help Beat Climate Change

At a three-day conference, the International Olive Council emphasized the role olive farming can play in efforts to reach global net zero emissions.

Stara Maslina in Budva, Montenegro
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Nov. 1, 2023 13:50 UTC
Stara Maslina in Budva, Montenegro

The idea that the olive tree could be a cru­cial tool in com­bat­ing cli­mate change may seem far-fetched. Still, the International Olive Council (IOC) has gath­ered evi­dence sug­gest­ing just that.

Over 300 experts, includ­ing sci­en­tists, farm­ers, pri­vate com­pa­nies and pol­i­cy­mak­ers from 30 coun­tries, met in Madrid in mid-October to dis­cuss the role of olive groves in address­ing cli­mate change.

It is the nat­ural behav­ior of the olive tree to cap­ture car­bon diox­ide in the atmos­phere, absorb it, and then store it firstly in the bio­mass and finally, into the soil in a per­ma­nent way.- Juan Antonio Polo Palomino, IOC tech­nol­ogy and envi­ron­ment depart­ment

Jaime Lillo, the IOC’s deputy exec­u­tive direc­tor who will take the helm of the inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion in 2024, told atten­dees on the first day that devel­op­ing the role of olive groves as a potent tool to mit­i­gate the impacts of cli­mate change will be a cen­tral focus of the IOC dur­ing his man­date.

See Also:Olive Trees Combat Air Pollution, New Research Shows

It is the nat­ural behav­ior of the olive tree to cap­ture car­bon diox­ide in the atmos­phere, absorb it, and then store it firstly in the bio­mass and finally, into the soil in a per­ma­nent way,” Juan Antonio Polo Palomino, the head of the IOC’s olive oil tech­nol­ogy and envi­ron­ment depart­ment, told Olive Oil Times.

As a result, olive groves serve as sig­nif­i­cant car­bon sinks. According to IOC data, olive groves span­ning 10.5 mil­lion hectares glob­ally can poten­tially remove 47 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere annu­ally.

Thus, tak­ing into account the total life cycle of olive oil, it can be main­tained that the pro­duc­tion of one kilo­gram of olive oil removes 10 kilo­grams of car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere,” the IOC con­cluded in a 2017 study.

Olive oil is already glob­ally appre­ci­ated for its taste and nutri­tional prop­er­ties. Its added pos­i­tive impact on the envi­ron­ment could make the sec­tor even more attrac­tive to con­sumers.

However, few know about the crop’s pos­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal impact. Consumers must be made aware that olive oil is a healthy fat and the most envi­ron­men­tally friendly fat, pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able and envi­ron­men­tally friendly con­sump­tion,” Polo Palomino said.

Experts at the work­shop have timed their find­ings to coin­cide with the European Commission’s frame­work for vol­un­tary credit car­bon mar­kets, which relies on three types of car­bon removals: car­bon stor­age in long-last­ing prod­ucts and mate­ri­als, per­ma­nent car­bon stor­age and car­bon farm­ing.

According to Polo Palomino, experts at the IOC have demon­strated that the olive tree, which falls under the third European Commission pil­lar of car­bon removals, is a car­bon sink, and they stand ready to work along­side the com­mis­sion to ensure that the frame­work rec­og­nizes the olive oil sector’s fun­da­men­tal role.

Moreover, we can improve on the olive tree’s nat­ural abil­ity to remove car­bon from the atmos­phere by sup­ple­ment­ing it with sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural prac­tices,” he said.

According to Polo Palomino, farm­ers can imple­ment waste col­lec­tion and com­post­ing prac­tices to improve their groves’ abil­ity to sequester car­bon diox­ide.

Adding organic mat­ter like leaves and waste from prun­ing back into the olive grove would improve the soil’s phys­i­cal struc­ture and min­eral com­po­nents,” he said. In addi­tion, there would be other ben­e­fi­cial side-effects for the soil’s health.”

For exam­ple, while the olive tree’s nat­ural abil­ity to absorb car­bon would func­tion, increas­ing the organic mat­ter in the soil improves its capac­ity to retain humid­ity, caus­ing it to require less water and irri­ga­tion,” Polo Palomino added.

Experts at the IOC work­shop view olive farm­ing as an excel­lent oppor­tu­nity for farm­ers to earn addi­tional income.

Not only would they earn income from the sale of olive oil, but also, given the pos­i­tive impact on the envi­ron­ment, they could ben­e­fit from sell­ing car­bon cred­its on the vol­un­tary car­bon credit mar­ket,” Polo Palomino said.

The olive grower should be seen as a guardian of a for­est, and there­fore, this extra income from car­bon cred­its can eco­nom­i­cally rec­og­nize this impor­tant role,” he added.

However, the olive sec­tor is not yet a part of the E.U. tax­on­omy for sus­tain­able invest­ment and, thus, does not qual­ify for the vol­un­tary car­bon credit mar­ket. The IOC and experts are work­ing to gain recog­ni­tion for the sec­tor.

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