Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Europe says "YES" to Soil Carbon!

The Soil Carbon Movement's message has penetrated the walls of the European Commission. Environment Commissioner Releasing a new report, Stavros Dimas said: “Properly managed soils can absorb enormous quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, buying us valuable time to reduce emissions and move towards sustainability."

The Commission says soils can play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Europe's soils are an enormous carbon reservoir, containing around 75 billion tonnes, and poor management can have serious consequences: a failure to protect Europe's remaining peat bogs, for example, would release the same amount of carbon as an additional 40 million cars on Europe's roads. The report describes itself as 'a synthesis of the best available information on the links between soil and climate change.' It says sequestering carbon in soils is "cost competitive and immediately available, requires no new or unproven technologies, and has a mitigation potential comparable to that of any other sector of the economy."

The Commission - a new entry into the soil carbon arena - is subject to the same misunderstanding most people exhibit in the early stages of their education. "Most soils in Europe are accumulating carbon: soils under grassland and forest act as sinks, sequestering up to 100 million tonnes of carbon per year, although soils under arable land act as net emitters, releasing between 10 and 40 million tonnes of carbon per year. Carbon is lost from soils when grasslands, managed forest lands or native ecosystems are converted to croplands, a process that is slowly reversed when cropland is converted back."

This mistaken view compounds the anxiety of the Commission's reporters: "Some of the report's conclusions make for uncomfortable reading. As the world population continues to grow, ever greater areas of grasslands and forests are converted to croplands, and soils that are currently carbon sinks will turn into net emitters. The most effective strategy to prevent global soil carbon loss would be to halt these land conversions – but this may conflict with growing global demand for food."

The Europeans have discovered Carbon Farming: "The report underlines how agricultural practices can be improved to minimise carbon losses, at the level of the crop and the crop residues, and by ensuring that soils are protected against water and rain with a permanent vegetation cover, less intrusive ploughing techniques and less machinery. Such practices could sequester between 50 and 100 million tonnes of carbon annually in European soils.

A lack of EU-wide data on soil carbon and soil carbon trends is all-too-familiar to Australians - and points to the data issue as generic. The whole world has neglected soils.

The Commission presented a legislative proposal to protect European soils in 2006, with support from the European Parliament, but opposition from five Member States means that the proposal is currently blocked in Council. (The bastards are everywhere.)

Report "Review of existing information on the interrelations between soil and climate change":

Soil and Climate Change conference (June 2008):

Soil web pages on Europa:

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