Growing crops with deeper root systems, using charcoal-based composts and applying sustainable agriculture practices could each year help soils retain the equivalent of around a fifth of annual emissions released by the burning of fossils fuels.
From the University of Edinburgh
The world’s soils could store an extra 8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, helping to limit the impacts of climate change, a study suggests.
Adopting the latest technologies and sustainable land use practices on a global scale could allow more emissions to be stored in farmland and natural wild spaces, the study shows.
Growing crops with deeper root systems, using charcoal-based composts and applying sustainable agriculture practices could each year help soils retain the equivalent of around a fifth of annual emissions released by the burning of fossils fuels, the team says.
The role that soils could play in efforts to combat climate change has until now been largely overlooked, owing to a lack of effective monitoring tools, say a team of scientists including researchers at Edinburgh.
Recent advances in technology have enabled researchers to work out their full potential.
Coordinated efforts involving scientists, policymakers and land users are key to achieving any meaningful increase in soil storage, researchers say.
Resources should be provided to help reduce the environmental impact of farms, they add.
Community-based initiatives would help to overcome cultural barriers, funding issues and monitoring challenges to achieve a global increase in soil uptake, the team says.
Schemes such as the Cool Farm Tool, a free online greenhouse gas calculator for crop growers, help farmers measure, manage and reduce emissions from their land.
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 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, Michigan State University and the University of Aberdeen.
Edinburgh’s climate research is world-leading. Its researchers have secured more than £50 million over the last seven years to fund work on climate science, emissions mitigation and sustainable solutions.
Soils are integral to the function of all terrestrial ecosystems and to food and fibre production. An overlooked aspect of soils is their potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Although proven practices exist, the implementation of soil-based greenhouse gas mitigation activities are at an early stage and accurately quantifying emissions and reductions remains a substantial challenge. Emerging research and information technology developments provide the potential for a broader inclusion of soils in greenhouse gas policies. Here we highlight ‘state of the art’ soil greenhouse gas research, summarize mitigation practices and potentials, identify gaps in data and understanding and suggest ways to close such gaps through new research, technology and collaboration.
Keith Paustian, Johannes Lehmann, stephen Ogle, David Reay, G. Philip Robertson & Pete Smith; Climate Smart Soils; Nature 532,49–57 doi:10.1038/nature17174
University of Edinburgh news release.