Horizon Europe - Missions - Carbon farming in living labs

Deadline :
September 20, 2023 5:00 PM

Brussels time

Project Duration:
Funding available:
EUR 12 000 000
Partners required:
At least one independent legal entity established in a Member State; and at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries

Funding programme

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. Read more about the Horizon Europe programme here.

Call overview

This call aims to increase removals of carbon from the atmosphere, including by upscaling carbon farming to store more carbon in nature.

Expected outcome

Activities under this topic respond directly to the goal of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’[1] of setting up 100 living labs by 2027 to lead the transition to healthy soils by 2030. In particular, it supports the Mission’s specific objective 2, “Conserve and increase soil organic carbon stocks”.

Activities should also contribute to meeting the European Green Deal ambitions and targets and more specifically those of the Farm to Fork Strategy, of the Commission’s Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles[2] and of the upcoming regulatory proposal on the certification of carbon removals[3], as well as to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on climate action. Activities performed within living labs will also support the Long Term Vision for EU’s Rural Areas (LTVRA)[4].

In its 2021 Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles, the Commission sets out how to increase removals of carbon from the atmosphere, including by upscaling carbon farming to store more carbon in nature. Research and innovation will also contribute to this goal, providing further solutions to farmers and foresters. Measures to achieve this goal include: standardising the monitoring, reporting and verification methodologies needed to provide a clear and reliable certification framework for carbon farming, allowing for developing voluntary carbon markets; and provide improved knowledge, data management and tailored advisory services to land managers.

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following outcomes:

  • Increased carbon sequestration and protection of carbon in soils, living biomass and dead organic matter, with environmental co-benefits safeguarded or enhanced, in different regions within the EU and Associated Countries where the selected living labs are operating.
  • Increased capacities for participatory, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary R&I approaches, allowing for effective cooperation between research, practice and policy, to tackle carbon farming challenges.
  • Practice-oriented knowledge and tools are more easily available to land managers and contribute to an enhanced uptake of carbon farming.
  • Strengthened collaborations between actors across territories and sectors as well as increased consideration of effective solutions for carbon farming in regions where the selected living labs are operating.
  • Policy-makers in the EU and Associated Countries are more aware of local needs with regard to carbon farming and can use knowledge to design and implement more effective policies.


Carbon farming can be defined as a green business model that rewards land managers for taking up improved land management practices, resulting in the increase of carbon sequestration in living biomass, dead organic matter and soils by enhancing carbon capture and/or reducing the release of carbon to the atmosphere, in respect of ecological principles favourable to biodiversity and the natural capital overall[5].

More research is still needed to increase removals of carbon from the atmosphere and achieve the EU's legally binding commitment to become climate neutral by 2050, as well as to close the gap between science and practice, between knowledge and implementation. The Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’ proposes a novel approach to research and innovation in the area of soil health, including the implementation of living labs. Living labs have the potential to empower a green transition towards healthy soils by developing solutions in a co-creative manner, involving actors in real-life settings at territorial level to achieve large-scale impacts.

Nowadays, there exist various definitions and conceptualizations of living labs. However, three components are recognizable within the now well-established living labs research concept, which include (a) co-creation with a large set of stakeholders, (b) in real-life sites and (c) involving the end-user[6]. For the purpose of the Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’, “Soil health living labs” are defined as “user-centred, place-based and transdisciplinary research and innovation ecosystems, which involve land managers, scientists and other relevant partners in systemic research and co-design, testing, monitoring and evaluation of solutions, in real-life settings, to improve their effectiveness for soil health and accelerate adoption”.

Living labs are collaborations between multiple partners that operate and undertake experiments on several sites at regional or sub-regional level[7]. Individual sites could be e.g. farms, forest stands, urban green or industrial areas, enterprises and other entities, where the work is carried-out and monitored under real-life conditions regardless of the land size, tenure (land ownerships) or the type of economic activity.

Lighthouses in contrast are defined as “places for demonstration of solutions, training and communication that are exemplary in their performance in terms of soil health improvement”. They are individual, local sites (one farm, one forest exploitation, one industrial site, one urban city green area, etc.) that can either be part of a living lab or be situated outside a living lab.

According to the Mission Implementation Plan, living labs involve partners from different backgrounds, disciplines and/or sectors and are composed of 10 to 20 experimental sites. However, depending on the specific context (e.g. the land use(s)), applicants can propose living labs with fewer experimental sites. By working together in a carbon farming living lab, the various partners involved will be able to replicate actions and solutions, compare results, exchange good practices, validate methodologies and benefit from cross-fertilisation within a local/regional setting.


More specifically, the funded project(s) should:

  • Set up four to five living labs (or more, as applicable to the land use(s) and purpose of the project) to work together on carbon farming, covering one or several land use types. The living labs shall be located in at least three different Member States and/or Associated Countries. Proposals should describe the rationale for cooperation across the various living labs and explain how the work undertaken will contribute to the Mission’s specific objective 2.
  • Establish, based on the goals and objectives of the project(s), a detailed work plan with the activities to be undertaken in an interdisciplinary way, ensuring the co-design, co-development, and co-implementation of locally adapted solutions.
  • Carry out participatory and transdisciplinary research and innovation in living labs in view of seeking practical solutions to carbon farming challenges, taking into account the relevant drivers and pressures. Moreover, challenges to the scaling up and the transferability of solutions should be addressed. Proposed strategies and solutions should be adapted to the different environmental, socio-economic and cultural contexts in which the living labs are operating. Living labs working in the area of agriculture are expected to address sustainable practices, applied across a range of farming systems, and benefit both conventional and organic farming.
  • Identify sites that demonstrate high performance in terms of their actions and results on carbon farming and that may be converted into lighthouses.
  • Establish for each living lab a baseline for carbon farming, in order to allow for an accurate assessment of the conditions and changes of soils in the different sites over time, and a clear monitoring of progress towards the objectives of the respective living lab and of the project overall. The funded project(s) should make use of relevant accounting methodologies for quantification of carbon removals, addressing the durability, additionality and environmental safeguards/co-benefits of carbon farming. They should work closely with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to contribute to the JRC’s efforts on soil monitoring and the development of the European Union Soil Observatory (EUSO).
  • Monitor and carry out an assessment of the innovative practices for carbon farming, taking into account the effects of ongoing climate change on carbon sequestration potential and dynamics. This should include a demonstration of the viability of the proposed solutions. Propose strategies (e.g. financial, organisational) to ensure long-term sustainability and continuity of the living labs beyond the Horizon Europe funding, including through identification of possible business models and actions involving local authorities, business communities, SMEs, investors, entrepreneurs, etc.
  • Document in an easy and accessible way the newly developed solutions in order to facilitate their uptake by land managers and transmit the acquired knowledge to all relevant actors.

In line with the nature of living labs, proposals must implement the multi-actor approach. The list of stakeholders will vary depending on features specific to each living lab and can involve different types of actors such as researchers, land owners or land managers, industry (incl. SMEs), public administrations, representatives of civil society (e.g. consumers, environmental NGOs). Care should be taken to describe the capabilities and roles of the different partners involved in the project and their areas of expertise. For example, while some partners may lead the conceptual work and coordinate the work within and across living labs, others may focus on carrying out experiments, providing advice, testing and validating innovative solutions, or be involved in outreach activities.


To be eligible for funding, applicants must be established in one of the following countries:

  • the Member States of the European Union, including their outermost regions;
  • the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) linked to the Member States;
  • countries associated to Horizon Europe;
  • low- and middle-income countries

See the full list in the General Annexes.

Consortium composition

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions, only legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes, as beneficiaries, three legal entities independent from each other and each established in a different country as follows:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State; and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.


The total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 12.00 million.

The Commission estimates that an EU contribution of around EUR 12.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately.

Apply now

Deadline :
September 20, 2023 5:00 PM

Brussels time

Project Duration:
Funding available:
EUR 12 000 000
Partners required:
At least one independent legal entity established in a Member State; and at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries