As the world grapples with the escalating crisis of global heating, innovative solutions are emerging from unexpected quarters. New research suggests that marginal improvements to agricultural soils worldwide could store enough carbon to keep global heating within 1.5C. This blog post, inspired by an article by Fiona Harvey, Environment Editor at The Guardian, delves into the potential of better farming techniques to address climate change.
The Power of Soil
Agricultural soils have long been recognized as significant carbon stores. However, intensive farming techniques, characterized by the excessive use of artificial fertilizers, often degrade soil health and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The new research proposes a shift towards farming techniques that enhance long-term fertility and yields, thereby increasing carbon storage in soils.
According to the data, improving farming techniques to store just 1% more carbon in about half of the world’s agricultural soils could absorb approximately 31 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This figure is strikingly close to the 32 gigatonnes gap between current planned emissions reduction globally per year and the amount of carbon that must be cut by 2030 to stay within 1.5C.
The Potential of Degraded Soils
The research, carried out by Jacqueline McGlade, former chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme and former executive director of the European Environment Agency, highlights the potential of degraded soils. McGlade found that storing more carbon in the top 30cm of agricultural soils would be feasible in many regions where soils are currently degraded.
McGlade now leads Downforce Technologies, a commercial organization that provides soil data to farmers. The company uses publicly available global data, satellite images, and lidar to assess how much carbon is stored in soils, down to the level of individual fields.
The Benefits of Soil Improvement
Improving soil health could have far-reaching benefits. In addition to sequestering carbon, healthier soils can reduce farming costs, improve yields, and enhance biodiversity. While farmers may face short-term costs as they transition away from the overuse of artificial fertilizers, their yields would improve, and their soils would become much healthier within two to three years.
The research underscores the critical role of soil health in addressing global heating. By adopting better farming techniques, we can improve soil health, enhance agricultural productivity, and make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. As we continue to seek solutions to our climate crisis, it’s clear that the answer may lie beneath our feet.
This blog post is based on the article “Improving farming soil could keep world within 1.5C heating target, research suggests” by Fiona Harvey, published in The Guardian on July 4, 2023.
Read the full article here.