Farming Carbon into Soils and Trees: A Climate-Smart Mid-Century Strategy for Agriculture

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In 2050, the Paris Agreement will be 34 years old,  Google will be 52,  the National Park Service will be 134, the tractor will be 158, the United States will be 274, and hopefully we’ll all be celebrating being well along the way to a cooler future. While it may seem like a lot of time, there’s a lot of work ahead of us.

That’s why leaders around the world have been working in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement to develop strategies to reduce net global warming emissions to established goals by mid-century (2050). As it turns out, an important part of this work has to do with boosting food, farms, and farmers—and that’s what I’ll talk about. However, if you’d like to learn about other solutions, check out the posts by my colleagues on biofuels, forests, and the energy sector.

First, a note about the land carbon “sink”

There is growing awareness of the value of the so-called “land carbon sink”. What is this all about?  Well, plants and soils store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. The more carbon can be “sequestered” into leaves, roots, stems tree trunks, and soils each year, the bigger the carbon “sink” and the smaller the climate change problem. Currently, about 762 million Mt CO2e worth of carbon are stored in plants and soils in the US. This is significant—enough to offset 11% of emissions— but insufficient given the magnitude of the climate change problem. Not only that, but since storing more carbon in lands also means building and protecting healthier soils, an investment in soil health simply makes sense. Luckily, the USDA already has a plan to help farms and forests sequester or offset an extra 120 million Mt CO2e/y (by 2025). This plan is a step in the right direction, but we can do better.

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