Is Soil our Secret Weapon Against Climate Change?

What if one of the planet’s secret weapons in the fight against climate change was all around us?

What if every country had it in abundance, and it could also be used at the same time to give a better life to those most in need?

Too good to be true?

Most of us might guess that the answer lies in clean energy, car-pooling or ramping up recycling only – but then you would be missing a big opportunity that’s literally right under our feet: soil.

With COP22 under way after entry into force of the Paris climate deal last Friday, focusing on soil could help us move from having a clear target to making actionable progress for the development of a sustainable agricultural sector, worldwide.

The intersection between climate change and agriculture is crucial to understanding the key role farmers play in mitigating climate change.

Soil is one of a farmer’s greatest assets. It is a critical component of the farming system, making a vital contribution to food security, effective water and energy utilization. An efficient use of soil can deliver multiple benefits in addition to mitigating climate change effects.

Some estimates suggest soil can store up to 1,000 kgs of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per hectare of land. In a process known as carbon sequestration, plants “breathe” in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and store it via their roots in the ground, as soil organic carbon. This game-changing approach could offset up to 15% of global fossil-fuel emissions, complementing crucial efforts to decarbonise the energy and transport sectors.

And it’s not just carbon sequestration that makes soil such an important ally in the fight against climate change.

Healthy soils are the basis of more productive food and agricultural systems, which are needed to meet the increasing demand for food from a growing world population, and to boost world food security and nutrition. High priority must be given to producing more sustainable and high quality food, fostering efficiency, and ensuring farmer gains, as well as strengthening economic growth, particularly in rural and remote areas. These are the critical catalysers to tackling climate change while achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

So it is clear that by keeping our soils healthy, we’ll be play our part in combatting global warming while scaling-up healthier food systems and nutrition for all.