A new paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability has found that if the Earth’s soil was restored and protected, it could sequester five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. This is roughly the equivalent of America’s annual emission.
According to the findings, the maximum potential for land-based sequestration is 23.8 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent. Essentially 5.5 tonnes could be absorbed annually.
Around 40% of this potential could be reached if existing land and soil was left untouched. This means that expansion in agriculture and plantations across the world would need to halt in order to achieve this.
According to AFP, Deborah Bossio, principal study author and lead soil scientist for The Nature Conservancy, said: “Most of the ongoing destruction of these ecosystems is about expanding the footprint of agriculture, so slowing or halting that expansion is an important strategy.”
She continued saying that by restoring soil, the benefits for humanity would be significant. These would include improved water quality, food production and crop resilience.
“There are few trade-offs where we build soil carbon and continue to produce food,” she told AFP.
Last year the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that the world needs to work harder to protect the land’s capability to absorb and store greenhouse gasses, to avoid it from converting from a carbon sink to a source.
In August the IPCC said humans need to consider how natural resources, like forests, wetlands, savannah’s and fields are used. On one end of the spectrum, there is the need to use these areas to create food and materials and the other end is how these are used to mitigate climate change.
The study has warned that by 2050, there won’t be enough space to feed 10 billion people.
Agriculture contributes to around a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste per year continues to grow global inequality.
“Shift the incentive structures in agriculture towards payments for the range of ecosystem services, food, climate, water and biodiversity that agriculture can provide to society,” said Bossio.