Juan Antonio Polo. IOC

Agriculture's strong dependence on climatic conditions makes it particularly vulnerable to climate change.

As we know, a considerable change in climatic conditions, associated with strong regional variability, is expected in the Mediterranean region. Most of the climate change scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict a significant increase in temperatures, a decrease in rainfall and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

Although the olive tree is reputed to be highly resistant to drought, several scientific studies and publications predict an increase in its net irrigation requirements, a reduction in yields and a variation in the phenological phases of olive trees in the Mediterranean region, as a result of increased heat and greater water stress. The last two crop years have confirmed these forecasts.

While the agricultural sector does indeed produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - due to certain practices, such as soil management, the application of nitrogen fertilisers, the use of fossil fuels, rice cultivation, the burning of residues, liming of soils, the use of urea, etc. - it can also play a key role in the fight against climate change. It can act as a CO2 sink thanks to the ability of certain agricultural ecosystems - mainly woody crops

- to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in permanent plant structures, ultimately storing it in the soil, increasing its organic matter content and transforming it into a permanent reservoir of CO2.

This is where the concept of the "carbon balance" comes in, which can be defined as the overall sum of GHG emissions and removals over the entire life cycle of a product, process or production system. This balance is considered within a specific unit of location and is expressed in units of mass of CO2-eq.

According to the International Olive Council's (IOC) 2017 Global Olive Oil Carbon Balance study, the world's olive groves could capture 47 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Given that the world's olive-growing area is 10.5 million hectares, one hectare of olive grove could therefore capture an average of 4.5 tonnes of CO2 per year.


Unfortunately, the unique capacity of olive groves to act as CO2 sinks is not taken into account by the methodologies currently in force (GHG Protocol, ISO 14067, ISO 14064, EU PEF, etc.). The incorporation of CO2 absorptions from olive groves is considered as an additional data item, but is not taken into account in official calculations, even though this would be essential to give an accurate overview of the real GHG emissions by the olive oil and table olive sector, both in terms of products and inventory approaches.

The current context provides an ideal scenario for the IOC to contribute to the development of methodological and policy frameworks aimed at strengthening the role of olive groves as an effective strategy for achieving the UN's climate objectives, in line with the adaptation measures recently described in the IPCC's Sixth Synthesis Report.

The sustainability of the olive sector is one of the IOC's strategic priorities. In this respect, the carbon balance of the olive grove is one of the main lines of action that the IOC intends to develop.

A number of initiatives have recently been launched to generate 'carbon credits' from agriculture, which could hypothetically be monetised on the voluntary emissions market. The European Union is currently working on a carbon certification framework.

We are therefore at a crucial time for olive groves to gain deserved recognition for their fundamental environmental role. This recognition could also have a positive effect on farmers, as their sustainable and positive agronomic practices would enable them to earn additional income.

As the only international and intergovernmental organisation in the world working in the field of olive oil, the IOC is set to become a leader in this sector, providing its member countries with technically contrasted tools, based on recognised and validated standards that are easy to use for the end user.