France’s Plan to Increase its Soil Carbon is an Example to the World

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photo credit: flickr user USDA

Author: John Quinton

It sounds like a modest ambition: France wants to raise the amount of carbon in its soils by 0.4% a year, writes John Quinton. But that represents a vast amount of carbon, and its capture into soils will bring a host of other benefits. We should all get with the program!

French wine lovers have always taken their soil very seriously. But now the country’s government has introduced fresh reasons for the rest of the world to pay attention to their terroir.

As industrial emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase and concerns about climate change grow, scientists and policy wonks are searching for potential solutions.

As well as mitigating climate change, carbon-rich soil is more fertile and raises food production. It improves soil’s physical properties – protecting against soil erosion and increasing water-holding capacity – and it enhances biodiversity.

Could part of the answer lie in the soil beneath our feet? French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll thinks so.

Soil stores vast amounts of carbon, far more than all the carbon in the world’s forests and atmosphere combined. Plants take carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis and when they die the carbon they stored is returned to the soil.

This forms part of the soil’s organic matter: a mix of undecayed plant and animal tissues, transient organic molecules and more stable material often referred to as humus. It is food for organisms in the soil that play a vital role in cycling nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

These organisms decompose the organic material and return much of the carbon to the atmosphere leaving only a small proportion in the soil.

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