Countries across the world must enact measurable policy actions to secure a safe climate — to keep warming below 1.5ºC since the start of the industrial era. We are already at 1.1ºC.
Last year, UN scientists determined that staying below 1.5ºC requires essentially cutting emissions in half by 2030, zero net emissions by 2050 and pulling out of the atmosphere up to 1 trillion tons of warming gases humans have already dumped there, primarily from burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and destroying soil.
We at The Climate Center are focusing on California, the world’s 5th largest economy, to enact the emissions reduction and sequestration policies necessary for rapid decarbonization, setting an example for the nation and the world.
UN scientists reported that soil carbon sequestration is among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential for removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, or “negative emissions.”
Currently, only 10 countries have programs on soil carbon as part of their official greenhouse gas reduction efforts. Yet boosting soil health at scale should be relatively easy to achieve through low-tech sustainable agricultural practices with policy, funding, and technical support.
Based on published estimates (here and here), global cropland and rangeland soils could pull roughly 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually by 2030, equal to about 1/3 of annual increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution (this percentage goes up as we transition to a clean energy economy and dirty emissions decrease).
As Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture said, “Improving soil health is a powerful climate solution. Healthy soils hold more water, store more carbon from the atmosphere, increase food security, support biodiversity, and enhance resilience to climate extremes such as droughts and floods.”
Nascent industrial carbon removal technologies will likely be valuable down the road but we already know how to manage natural and agricultural lands for sequestration today. That is why The Climate Center is making healthy soils and habitats a rapid decarbonization priority for the decade ahead.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (US Department of Agriculture) has identified more than 20 different practices to manage agricultural or “working” lands for carbon removal from the atmosphere, including compost application, cover cropping, mulching, conservation tillage, tree planting, riparian restoration, and rotational grazing.
Carbon sequestration on natural and working lands has also been identified by the California Air Resources Board as a priority pathway for greenhouse gas reductions. Equally important is protecting existing carbon stocks in soil, vegetation and the ocean.
Working with nature using climate-friendly management and restoration practices—such as on agricultural soils as well as in forests, mountain meadows, streamside habitats, tidal marsh, seagrass beds, kelp forests and our own backyards– we can store planet-heating gases from the atmosphere for long periods of time while also providing many other benefits.
Implementing bold and equitable policies that will catalyze carbon sequestration through building healthy soils and restoring healthy habitats will be key to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and net negative emissions by 2035.
With your generous support, we will build a powerful, diverse coalition of climate advocates who will drive the necessary policy change in Sacramento for rapid decarbonization and a thriving, vibrant, and stable planet.