Put More Carbon in Soils to Meet Paris Climate Pledges

Soils are crucial to managing climate change. They contain two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere. Plants circulate carbon dioxide from the air to soils, and consume about one-third of the CO2 that humans produce. Of that, about 10–15% ends up in the earth.

Carbon is also essential for soil fertility and agriculture. Decomposing plants, bacteria, fungi and soil fauna, such as earthworms, release organic matter and nutrients for plant growth, including nitrogen and phosphorus. This gives structure to soil, making it resilient to erosion and able to hold water. Typically, organic matter accounts for a few per cent of the mass of soil near the surface.

Increasing the carbon content of the world’s soils by just a few parts per thousand (0.4%) each year would remove an amount of CO2 from the atmosphere equivalent to the fossil-fuel emissions of the European Union1 (around 3–4 gigatonnes (Gt)).

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Heal the Soil, Cool the Climate

Back when I first started at Green America, in 2000, I remember our president/CEO Alisa Gravitz often cautioning those of us on the editorial team against using the term “end” when it came to climate change. There simply wasn’t a solution available that would “end” or “stop” the climate crisis, she would say. The best the world could hope for was collective action that would curb the worst of its effects. We’d get excited about a set of climate solutions and write that they could help “end global warming,” and Alisa would shake her head sadly and ask us to strike the word “end” for accuracy.

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That’s not to say that she wasn’t optimistic about the potential of renewable energy—particularly solar—to make a dent in climate change. Or that she wasn’t hopeful that businesses could come up with some powerful innovations.

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US Could Cut Emissions More Than One-Fifth Through ‘Natural Climate Solutions’ Like Reforestation

More than one-fifth of current greenhouse gas emissions in the United States could be kept out of the atmosphere and stored in the land, according to new research.

A study led by Joseph E. Fargione, director of science at The Nature Conservancy, looks at the natural solutions that could help the US do its part to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (approximately 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the goal adopted by the 195 countries who signed the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.

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Fargione and team examined 21 natural climate solutions that increase carbon storage and help avoid the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, including conservation and restoration initiatives as well as improved management of forests, grasslands, farmlands, and wetlands. According to a study published in the journal Science Advances last week detailing their findings, the researchers’ analysis reveals that all of these natural climate strategies combined could reduce global warming emissions by an amount equivalent to about 21 percent of US net emissions in 2016.

“We found a maximum potential of 1.2 (0.9 to 1.6) Pg CO2e year−1 [petagrams of CO2 equivalent per year], the equivalent of 21% of current net annual emissions of the United States,” the researchers write in the study. “NCS would also provide air and water filtration, flood control, soil health, wildlife habitat, and climate resilience benefits.”

The majority — some 63 percent — of the climate mitigation potential of natural solutions in the US is due to increased carbon sequestration in plant biomass, with 29 percent coming from increased carbon sequestration in soil and 7 percent from avoided emissions of methane and Nitrous oxide. Of the 21 natural solutions the researchers analyzed, increased reforestation efforts had the largest carbon storage potential, equivalent to keeping 65 million passenger cars off the road.

Climate mitigation potential of 21 NCS in the United States. Credit: Fargione et al. (2018). doi:10.1126/sciadv.aat1869

“Reforestation has the single largest maximum mitigation potential (307 Tg CO2e year−1 [teragrams of CO2 equivalent per year]),” the researchers write. “The majority of this potential occurs in the northeast (35%) and south central (31%) areas of the United States. This mitigation potential increases to 381 Tg CO2e year−1 if all pastures in historically forested areas are reforested.”

Forests provide a number of other solutions with great potential, such as increasing carbon storage by allowing longer periods between timber harvests and reducing the risk of mega-fire through controlled burns and thinning of forests, the researchers found.

“One of America’s greatest assets is its land. Through changes in management, along with protecting and restoring natural lands, we demonstrated we could reduce carbon pollution and filter water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and have better soil health to grow our food — all at the same time,” Fargione said in a statement. “Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming.”

Fargione and his co-authors note that close to a million acres of forest in the US are converted to non-forest every year, mostly as a result of suburban and exurban expansion and development, but that this source of greenhouse gas emissions could be addressed with better land use planning.

“Clearing of forests with conversion to other land uses releases their carbon to the atmosphere, and this contributes to rising temperatures,” said co-author Christopher A. Williams, an environmental scientist and associate professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. “Land owners and land managers are thinking about how they might use their land base to slow the pace of climate change, but until now they lacked the data needed to assess this potential.”

Williams added: “We estimated how much forest is being lost each year across the U.S., and the amount of carbon that releases to the atmosphere. Turning these trends around can take a dent out of global warming, and now we know how much and where the potential is greatest.”

The researchers also estimated the emissions reductions that could be accomplished for $10, $50, and $100 per megagram of CO2 equivalent, and found that 25 percent, 76 percent, and 91 percent, respectively, of the maximum mitigation could be achieved at those prices. This is a key finding, they say, because “a price of at least USD 100 is thought to be needed to keep the 100-year average temperature from warming more than 2.5°C, and an even higher price may be needed to meet the Paris Agreement <2°C target.”

US President Donald Trump has said he plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, but the earliest any country can do so is 2020. The US’ Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement calls for the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Reaching that goal will require the US to drastically scale back the burning of fossil fuels, but this new study shows that NCS will also have a crucial role to play.

“Reducing carbon-intensive energy consumption is necessary but insufficient to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement,” the researchers write. “Comprehensive mitigation efforts that include fossil fuel emission reductions coupled with NCS hold promise for keeping warming below 2°C.”

Forest in Borderland State Park, Massachusetts. 35 percent of the climate mitigation potential of reforestation in the United States occurs in northeastern forests. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC0.

 

CITATION

• Fargione, J. E., Bassett, S., Boucher, T., Bridgham, S. D., Conant, R. T., Cook-Patton, S. C., … & Gu, H. (2018). Natural climate solutions for the United States. Science Advances, 4(11), eaat1869. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aat1869

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

Chance Encounter Leads to Tropical Ag Conference and Long-Term Commitment to Regenerating Belize

On November 13 – 15, Regeneration Belize and Regeneration International (RI) will co-host the Tropical Agriculture Conference in Belmopan.

The event, which will take place at the National Agriculture & Trade Show grounds, will feature a combination of international speakers and local experts on everything from regenerative poultry production and beekeeping to edible landscaping and greenhouse management.

Photo credit: Regeneration International

Regeneration Belize, an official RI Alliance, aims to transform Belize into a leading producer of nutrient-rich agricultural products and a showcase for carbon sequestration through soil regenerative practices.

A relatively new nonprofit, Regeneration Belize grew out of a casual encounter about a year ago (December 2017), at the ACRES USA Annual Eco-Ag Conference in Ohio. It was there that Ina Sanchez, director of research for the Belize Ministry of Agriculture, and Beth Roberson, of The Belize Ag Report, first met RI’s international director, Andre Leu.

Leu, who spoke at the conference along with Ronnie Cummins and Vandana Shiva—both founding members of RI—explained RI’s mission and how the international nonprofit was working to fulfill that mission, on a global scale. Intrigued, Sanchez and Roberson invited Leu to Belize.

Before long, Leu had offered to come to Belize in 2018 and present a three-day farmers’ workshop.

One thing led to another, and in February 2018, RI’s Latin America director, Ercilia Sahores, and RI network member Ricardo Romero traveled to Belize for discussions with about 20 people, including Belizean farmers, consumers, business leaders and NGO members, about how to spread the word in Belize about regenerative agriculture. Also attending was Belizean Senator Osmany Salas, who represents all NGOs in the legislature, and now serves on Regeneration Belize’s Advisory Group.

Sahores, Romero and others met with officials of Belize’s Ministry of Agriculture, including CEO Jose Alpuche, CAO Andrew Harrison, and Belarmino Esquivel, head of Extension Services. During those meetings, the ministry offered the use of the National Agriculture and Trade Show Grounds in the capital city Belmopan for an agriculture conference later in 2018. The conference planners agreed to have to include information for every type of Belizean farmer—small and large, conventional and organic. They also agreed to no admission fees, so that costs wouldn’t prevent interested parties from attending.

Originally, there was no vision to form a separate NGO for Belize. But it was later decided that a nonprofit would provide a vehicle for raising funds for future work, including the conference. Now as an NGO, Regeneration Belize can host an annual conference, in addition to ongoing workshops and other events useful to the agricultural sector.

For Regeneration Belize’s premier conference, RI has provided six international speakers, who will share proven methods and practices for the tropics. The speakers and their topics are: Andre Leu on topsoils; Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin on regenerative poultry; Dr. Alvaro Zapata of Fundación Cipav on integrated livestock with silvopastoral systems; Elder Adrian Calderon on regenerative beekeeping; and Ronnie Cummins on regenerative food, farming and land use as the next stages of organic and agricultural ecology.

Regeneration Belize selected 11 local experts to round out the two days of presentations, 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 5 different pavilions. Local experts will present on: medicinal plant gardening; native crops; biofertilizers; watershed management; biochar, turmeric & vanilla production; edible landscaping; greenhouse management and agroforestry. Wednesday sessions will be in English and Kekchi Maya. Thursday’s presentations will include some in English and others in Spanish

 

Learn more about the conference presentations here and here.

 

Beth Roberson and Dottie Feucht are founding members of Regeneration Belize.

For more information about Regeneration Belize and Regeneration International (RI), sign up RI’s newsletter.

 

 

Soil and Seaweed: Farming Our Way to a Climate Solution

Scientists have issued a dire warning: to maintain a habitable planet we must dramatically reduce atmospheric carbon in the next decade. Nature has been warning us too, lately in the forms of climate change–intensified Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is freezing fuel-efficiency standards, propping up the coal industry, trying to roll back the Clean Power Plan and disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory boards.

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In the absence of U.S. federal leadership on climate, what state, local, community or corporate solutions can be rapidly scaled? As a farmer and a marine biologist, and as mother and daughter, we have had two decades of dinner table conversations about the connections between agriculture and the ocean and about the alarming trends in soil health, ocean health and climate change. These discussions have converged on an underappreciated solution: regenerative farming of both land and sea.

 

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Look after the Soil, save the Earth: Farming in Australia’s Unrelenting Climate

From the red soil of his hometown in the Western Australian outback town of Wiluna, Michael Jeffery very nearly became a farmer.

He opted for being a soldier instead, serving in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After a distinguished military career, he served as governor of his home state of Western Australia and governor general of Australia – who represents the Queen, Australia’s head of state.

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So he doesn’t enter public debate lightly. But he is highly exercised by his latest topic: restoring Australia’s ancient soils.

It was a world first when he was appointed by Julia Gillard’s Labor government as the first national soil advocate in 2012 and his term was extended under the former National party leader and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce.

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How a Regenerative Revolution Could Reverse Climate Change

Earlier this month the world’s leading climate scientists released the most urgent warning on climate change to date. It describes the implications of our current warming trajectory, including dire food shortages, large-scale human migration and crises ranging from a mass die-off of coral reefs to increasingly extreme weather events. To reverse course, the report calls for a global transformation of historically unprecedented speed and scale. As one of the IPCC study’s co-chairs emphasized, “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

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Among the ambitious ideas to meet this challenge is to enable a regenerative revolution, one that supplants our extractive economic model and goes beyond “sustainability” to draw down carbon and reverse course on climate change. Marc Barasch is among the leaders striving to galvanize such a transformation.

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Creating a Carbon-based Local Economy

How can local economies value carbon farming practices in finished consumer goodsFibershed represents a 160-member producer community, spanning from the Oregon border to San Luis Obispo and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra foothills, that is managing working landscapes strategically to sequester carbon. Burgess gave this talk, transcribed and edited below, as part of the Bioneers Carbon Farming Series.

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How do basic human needs – food, fuel, flora, fiber – get met within an economically and ecologically strategic geography?

There are 25 million hectares of rangelands in California and a key question is whether we can manage them to help lower Earth’s temperature. Most rangeland systems have very low amounts of carbon. California has lost around 40% of its carbon in its rangelands due to the loss of perennials. These soils are in a massive carbon debt.

Fibershed is organizing place-based economies around carbon.

 

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Soil Is the Unsung Hero in the Fight Against World Hunger

Cutting-edge tech promises to produce food more cheaply and at a greater scale than we ever thought possible: tractors with AI, gene-edited crops, and single-sex dairy cow reproduction have made the news lately. Many of these innovations are the natural outgrowth of a century focused on reducing food production to a series of inputs that can yield something ingestible at the greatest possible profit.

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We moderns have tended to look on these innovations with admiration, as we do with so many technological and industrial advancements—they reflect our inclination to seek ever-greater control and domination over natural systems.

Yet food is an area where we should be deeply engaged with natural systems, rather than trying to dominate them. We should be looking to nature for answers to today’s big questions: How will we feed 9 billion people by 2050? How will we grow enough food on a hotter planet?

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How Can Soil Quality Slow Global Warming?

A new study from the University of Berkeley in California has found that improving soil quality could make a substantial contribution to slowing down global warming. What’s more, the practices needed to make this scenario a reality are already widely-practiced around the world and involve little technological or financial investment to implement.

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The authors of the paper found that if simple initiatives like planting cover plants, sowing legumes and optimising grazing terrain were introduced on a worldwide scale, they could reduce global warming by as much as a quarter of a degree Celsius. If the controversial additive biochar was factored in, the reductions could amount to as much as half a degree. However, none of the above will have any meaningful impact without attendant reductions in carbon emissions

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