Better land use one of the keys to slowing global warming

Wheat field in Upper Austria
More sustainable agricultural practices could help sequester huge amounts of atmospheric carbon. @bberwyn photo.

Study quantifies climate benefits of sustainable land use

Staff Report

Switching to more sustainable forms of land use management could significantly boost the carbon-storing capacity of the planet’s soils — by up to 8 billion tons of greenhouse gases, scientists reported in a new study. Previous research shows that soils currently lock away around 2.4 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which are stored underground as stable organic matter.

The measures identified by the researchers include growing crops with deeper root systems and using charcoal-based composts. Widespread adoption sustainable land use practices and and application of best available technologies could help soils store up to 80 percent of greenhouse gases released by fossil fuel combustion, the researchers calculated.

The study team included scientists with the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, who said the role of soils in combating climate change has been overlooked, partly because it’s hard to get accurate measurements. Implementing such measures would require close cooperation among scientists, policymakers and land users. More resources should be provided to help reduce the environmental impact of farms, the scientists concluded.

“In the fight to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century we need heavyweight allies,” said Professor Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.  One of the most powerful is right beneath our feet. Soils are already huge stores of carbon, and improved management can make them even bigger.”

Grassroots initiatives could help overcome cultural resistance to changing agricultural habits, including tools like the Cool Farm Tool, a free online greenhouse gas calculator for crop growers.

The study, published in the journal Nature, received funding from the Natural Environment Research Council. The research was carried out in collaboration with Colorado State University, Cornell University and Michigan State University.

“Soils have probably been overlooked as you cannot see the large carbon stocks they contain, whereas you can see trees growing and getting bigger,” said Professor Pete Smith, of the University of Aberdeen. “It is also difficult to easily measure changes in soil carbon as changes are slow and we are trying to measure a small change against a large background.

“But after International Year of Soils in 2015, and the French Government’s initiative to increase soil carbon stocks to tackle climate change agreed at the Paris climate summit last December, soils are now firmly on the climate change agenda,” he concluded.

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2 thoughts on “Better land use one of the keys to slowing global warming

  1. Reblogged this on GarryRogers Nature Conservation and commented:
    GR: Carbon storage in soils equates to fertility. Over most of the Earth’s land surfaces, grazing and farming lead to loss of topsoil, the upper soil layer that holds the carbon. It will be very difficult to improve the current wasteful practices since the growing human population is urgently demanding more meat and potatoes. Unlike disaster movies with a positive conclusion, our waste of the soil will lead to a bad ending. Unlike the alien invaders in the movie Independence Day, we humans cannot move on when our resources are exhausted.

  2. Our best hope lies in measuring and analyzing the resources, developing expert level management plans and measuring implementation to determine results. Less politics, more science, balancing the demand for resources by considering that wild lands are a resource every bit as vital to us as oilfields and mines. The need for one should not overshadow the need for the other, and this cuts both directions. A significant portion of any development plan should be devoted to finding all possible ways to protect and restore the disturbed environment. Doing it effectively and efficiently within budgets is greatly enhanced by high quality measurement and analysis of the available resources by teams of dedicated researchers.

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