Hope Below Our Feet: Soil as a Climate Solution

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Authors: Anne-Marie Codur, Seth Itzkan, William Moomaw, Karl Thidemann, and Jonathan Harris | Published: April 2017 

Can the world meet the ambitious goals necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change? A major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is clearly needed, but there is increasing scientific consensus that even if achieved, this will not be enough. In addition to a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, carbon must be removed from the atmosphere. An important solution is beneath our feet – the massive capacity of the earth’s soils to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.

Soils hold about three times more carbon than the atmosphere, and an increase in soil carbon content worldwide could close the “emissions gap” between carbon dioxide reductions pledged at the Paris Agreement of 2015 and those deemed necessary to limit warming to 2 o C or less by 2100. To meet this challenge, several international efforts to build soil carbon have been launched, with similar measures underway in the United States.

Proposed policies include reforestation and innovative farming, ranching, and land management approaches that will enhance degraded soil and restore its carbon stock. The French-initiated effort, 4 per 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate, introduced to coincide with the Paris Agreement, calls for an annual increase of 0.4% in annual global soil carbon storage which, if achieved, would amount to nearly one third of total anthropogenic emissions. This brief also addresses other international soil carbon enhancement initiatives and legislation considered or enacted in US states.

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