UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Soil carbon farming has the potential to bridge the global emissions gap

Professor Jacquie McGlade co-authors this paper on the carbon sequestration capacity of soils


2 November 2023

Agriculture is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases but increasing average soil organic carbon in cropland and pasture by 1 per cent globally, could lead to carbon sequestration of 311 GtCO2e, the equivalent of the 2030 emissions reductions gap.

There is growing interest globally in soil health and the role that enhanced soil organic carbon (SOC) can play in climate change mitigation, resilience, and food security.

Different initiatives for SOC sequestration (SCS), such as Project Drawdown, ‘4p1000’ and RECSOIL have been proposed yet SCS commitments and targets are missing from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC Global Stocktake.

This new paper Soil carbon farming has the potential to bridge the global emissions gap asks whether a single, locally relevant target could be developed for SCS that would encourage widespread adoption of soil carbon removals practices by farmers and land managers globally.

The team used 210,00 local soils profiles from the World Soil Information System to assess the SOC potential of 2,352 million ha of agricultural land, identified with the Landsat Global Land Cover classification. Based on the local characteristics of the carbon sequestration capacity of soils, they found that a one percent average increase in SOC storage in croplands, pasture and irrigated fields would have the potential to sequester 84.9 GtC or 311 311 GtCO 2-e [range 159 – 447 GtCO 2-e]. This represents more than a decade of the emission reductions needed to have a chance of remaining on a 2°C or 1.5°C or Net Zero pathway.

The authors argue that a one per cent target is easy to communicate and understand, especially as most farmers and land managers who regularly test their soils are familiar with the soil carbon percentages of their land.

Read the paper