Carbon sequestration in soil: The potential underfoot

Carbon sequestration in soil: The potential underfoot

Posted: 19 Oct 2015 08:23 AM PDT

Declining greenhouse gas emissions from European cropland could compensate for up to 7 percent of annual agricultural emissions from the region, according to a new study analyzing the carbon uptake potential of soil. However at global scale, indirect effects could offset significant parts of these emission savings….A new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change projects that carbon sequestration in European cropland could store between 9 and 38 megatons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) per year in the soil, or as much as 7% of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the European Union, at a price of carbon of 100 $/tCO2. “However, if strict emission reduction targets are only adopted inside Europe, efforts within the EU to reduce emissions could lead to increased emissions in other parts of the world, which could significantly compromise emission reductions at global level” says IIASA researcher Stefan Frank, who led the study.

In order to reach the EU goals on climate change, mitigation measures will be needed across many sectors. This research focuses on the agriculture piece of that puzzle. The world’s soils contain the third largest stock of carbon, after oceans and the geological pool, which includes rocks and fossil fuels. Any disturbance of soils, for example through inappropriate management or land use change could therefore release significant amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. Good management practices, on the other hand, can significantly reduce emissions. The study shows that a carbon tax only within Europe could cause some part of European agricultural production to be reallocated outside Europe. Consequently, emissions outside Europe would increase, thereby partly offsetting the emission reductions inside Europe, a problem known as emissions leakage.


Stefan Frank, Erwin Schmid, Petr Havlík, Uwe A. Schneider, Hannes Böttcher, Juraj Balkovič, Michael Obersteiner. The dynamic soil organic carbon mitigation potential of European cropland. Global Environmental Change, 2015; 35: 269 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.08.004

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