Soil loss: an unfolding global disaster

Soil carbon management: key recommendations from expert team

Soil carbon management could be key to solving global sustainability challenges. Now a team of global experts (co-chaired by Grantham supervisor Steven Banwart) have produced a series of recommendations on soil carbon. 

Why is soil carbon important?

Professor Steve Banwart explains the importance of soil carbon. ‘Soil carbon in the form of organic matter is a huge asset worldwide. Its vital role to support food production and environmental quality is taken for granted.’

But soil carbon is declines, which may have serious consequences. ‘There have been significant declines in soil carbon just in the past few decades due to intensive land use. Protecting and improving soil carbon levels in soils around the world is essential for sustained economic development and environmental protection.’

Soil research at the Grantham Centre

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Global Advances in Soil Carbon Management

Global Advances in Soil Carbon Management is a diverse team of 75 experts from 17 countries. Their aim was to draw together science and policy on soil carbon.

Now they’ve published a report with key recommendations for soil carbon management: Soil Carbon Science, Management and Policy for Multiple Benefits. If implemented, the recommendations could have a significant impact. Areas of impact would include land degradation, food security, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions from land.

This report is the result of a 2 year international Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) project Benefits of Soil Carbon. The RAP was organised through the Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).

Soil Carbon Science, Management and Policy for Multiple Benefits: key recommendations

Stopping soil carbon losses from organic-rich soils where soils are vulnerable due to low soil carbon content. Examples of organic rich soils include peatlands and drylands.

Promoting soil carbon gains through active soil management in agricultural lands that have experienced historical losses of soil carbon.

Greatly expanding soil and land management from local scale decisions to increased national and international actions. This could deliver large-scale benefits worldwide.

Reducing the fragmentation in policy for soil and land management.

A global research effort to increase soils carbon content and quantify the soil improvements. Also to adapt improved soil carbon management to land and climate conditions around the world.

Practical action on soil carbon management

Project co-chair Professor Elke Noellemeyer believes practical actions for the management of soil carbon already exist. ‘Conventional agriculture often harms soil carbon levels. But there are many practical ways that are used to improve soil carbon in farmland. These practical steps need to be expanded and adapted to local conditions worldwide.’

Professor Jerry Melillo is leader of the USA Global Change Research Programme’s 2014 report on climate change. He stresses the urgency of addressing soil carbon. ‘These recommendations are a thoughtful and positive statement that offers practical actions that can be taken to tackle these major global change challenges. Managing soil effectively is one of the most important tasks facing society in this century”’

Read the full paper

You can find full recommendations and supporting evidence in SCOPE, Volume 71, published by CAB International. You can find it here.

Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE)

SCOPE 71 considers a range of topics related to soil carbon. It also includes a plain language discussion of the many free services that soil carbon provides for society. Further, it provides a set of options for managing soil carbon for the benefit of future generations. SCOPE 71 is a resource for policy makers and land managers who are working to build a more sustainable planet.

For the past 45 years SCOPE has been working across scientific, cultural and political boundaries. As a result they’ve produced high profile, policy-relevant scientific assessments on many global environmental issues.

These assessments bridge the gap between research and the application of scientific knowledge in management and policy practices.

Edited by Claire Moran.