Soil Carbon: Why should you care?
We are at a crossroads. The world’s climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. Meanwhile, we represent the first generation to experience the effects of climate change and the last generation is still able to limit its impacts.
The effects of climate change that are already visible today involve extreme events such as longer-lasting droughts, stronger hurricanes and storm surges and rainfall events. While “extreme” implies rarity, the scientific consensus is clear: As the global temperature rises, the effects become stronger and more frequent as yesterday’s extremes become today’s normal.
The looming threat of these impacts has driven the global community to agree to limit the temperature increase to below 1.5°C within the Paris Agreement, which implies reaching net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. But what’s behind these numbers and what is meant by “net zero”?
According to the IPCC, a temperature rise beyond 1.5°C will likely result in irreversible consequences (so-called “climate tipping points”), and it goes without saying that the mentioned climate impacts will be significantly stronger and much more expensive for a 2°C warmer world than for 1.5°C. To avoid this scenario becoming reality, we are left with 30 years and a remaining total CO2 emission budget of 580 Gt.
While decarbonization is the most effective way to reach those targets, some hard-to-abate industries (such as cement, steel, aviation, chemicals and heavy-duty shipping), where carbon-free processes are yet to be developed or are still in development, face financial or technical barriers toward achieving complete decarbonization. Given the short time frame for the implementation and restructuring of these carbon-intensive industries (making up around 30% of global emissions) it becomes clear that the excess CO2 emitted beyond 2050 needs to be compensated. Thus, additional options need to be explored to avoid exceeding the remaining carbon budget.
This is where carbon removal comes into play: All emissions that cannot be abated within the given time frame must be compensated by removing carbon from the atmosphere, counting as “negative emissions”. A great deal of research and innovation has already gone into using technological fixes (such as the so-called “carbon vacuum” by Climeworks). However, with high financial barriers and the rise of nature-based solutions and the triple crisis (climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution), a growing number of projects are focusing on using nature to lend us a hand.
The talk is on Natural Climate Solutions (NCS). These are practices that increase carbon sequestration and storage through conservation, restoration and improved land management. They represent a viable option to remove carbon from the atmosphere while providing many additional benefits such as soil productivity, clean air and water, and biodiversity. Trees, in particular, have received significant attention in recent years, with many NCS aiming at the protection and restoration of forests and mangroves to ensure carbon sequestration. However, another generally overlooked carbon sink is gaining prominence: Soil Organic Matter (SOM), as found abundantly in peat- and grasslands.
Soil harbours as much as one-quarter of global living biodiversity. This living matter induces many important soil functions such as water filtration and storage, but also plays a major role in another crucial function: Soils sequester and harbour a majority of terrestrial carbon. Through intensive use, erosion and climate change these soils are becoming degraded, turning this valuable sink into a source of carbon. While this is alarming, it also offers a great opportunity for climate action by the removal of atmospheric carbon through soil conservation and regeneration.
However, time is of the essence. With every rise in temperature the capacity of soils, vegetation and oceans to store CO2 decreases. That’s why Seqana aims to help scale NCS projects by enabling affordable and precise Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV). Less time spent on project monitoring and approval mean more time to get the job done.
This blogpost was guest-authored by a friend of Seqana Christopher Wittmann