Healthy Soils to Cool the Planet – A Philanthropic Action Guide

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Background from Ellie: Conservatively, managing agricultural soils for soil organic matter can sequester 5 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e out of the atmosphere globally every year, drawing down 50% of what is needed to return to a safe climate by 2050.

The UN IPCC’s recent 1.5C report called soil carbon sequestration as among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential (http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/). Healthy soils are foundational to human well-being, climate stabilization and vibrant ecosystems. The sustainable management and restoration of soils enhance agricultural productivity, fresh water availability, biodiversity, and climate change preparedness with enormous potential to slow and reverse negative impacts such as droughts, floods and more (von Unger, M. & Emmer, I. 2018. Carbon Market Incentives to Conserve, Restore and Enhance Soil Carbon. Silvestrum & TNC).  

Almost all IPCC scenarios that keep us below 2°C of warming include CO2 removal – typically about 10 billion tons CO2 yr-1. Based on the latest estimates from the IPCC, soils management could conservatively pull 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually on croplands and rangelands by 2050, offering 50% of the needed carbon removal, with zero additional land and water use (D. Bossio, TNC; and, Zomer et al. Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils. Scientific Reports 7.; Vermeulen et al, A Global Agenda for Action on Soil Carbon. Nature Sustainability, Jan 2019). Equally important is avoiding future emissions from soil by protecting existing soil carbon stocks in grasslands and wetlands. 

Currently, only 8 governments include soil health in their efforts to achieve the Paris Climate goals (UNFCCC 2015). Yet boosting soil health at scale should be relatively easy to achieve through low-tech sustainable agricultural practices with policy, funding and technical support. There are other natural climate solutions as well such as climate-smart habitat restoration (https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/59fb62cbe4b0531197b165f8 and Dybala et al. (2018) Carbon sequestration in riparian forests: a global synthesis and meta-analysisGlobal Change Biology. ) and silviculture (https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/silviculture-climate-change).