Soil for climate change mitigation and adaptation
According to the European Soil Strategy 2050, in relation to climate change, these two main types of soils play an important role:
– Organic soils (including peatlands) have a high carbon content of more than 20% in dry weight and cover 8% of the EU. Peatlands are terrestrial wetlands in which waterlogged conditions prevent plant material from fully decomposing. Peatland drainage across all land categories in Europe alone emits around 5% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from cultivated organic soils have still not decreased significantly due to the continuation of harmful cropping practices. Yet restoring drained organic soils alone could significantly reduce CO2 emissions from land, which comes with numerous co-benefits, for nature, biodiversity and water protection.
– Mineral soils feature a carbon content below 20%, although more generally it is below 5%. Every year mineral soils under cropland are losing around 7.4 million tonnes of carbon, caused i.a. by unsustainable farming practices. Yet, that carbon pool is the ‘bank account’ of farmers and foresters in terms of natural capital. It is essential not to deplete it, as the carbon content is the basis for soil’s biodiversity, health and fertility. Furthermore, carbon sequestration in mineral soils, while depending on soil type and climatic conditions, is a cost-effective emission mitigation method with significant potential to sequester between 11 to 38 MtCO2eq annually in Europe if a range of management practices which have already been identified are applied on a larger scale in arable land. Many of these practices are cost-effective. Foresters as well have significant opportunities for measures which simultaneously improve forest productivity, carbon sink function and healthy soil properties. The banking and financial sector is increasingly interested in investing in those farmers who apply sustainable practices and increase soil carbon, as well as creating market-based incentives for carbon storing. There is evidence that carbon farming can contribute significantly to the EU’s efforts to tackle climate change but also brings other co-benefits such as increased biodiversity and the preservation of ecosystems.