The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is making a push to recognize projects that aim to increase the uptake and storage of carbon by soil in the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism.
Improving the ability of soils to capture and store carbon has taken a back seat to fostering and funding projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and addressing deforestation. If successful, the UNCCD’s campaign would be a big step towards taking a more balanced and comprehensive approach, one that could yield significant ancillary benefits to millions of small-scale and subsistence farmers, pastoralists and communities around the world.
Enriching Soils, Ecology & Communities
There’s more carbon in the world’s soils than there is in the atmosphere and the potential is there to increase this amount significantly, according to soil science and land use experts. The UNCCD proposes that the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) recognize practical efforts to improve soils’ ability to take up and store carbon as a greenhouse gas abatement technology, and include them in the Clean Development Mechanism, currently the main financing and technology transfer vehicle for climate change mitigation projects involving both developing and developed nations.
The agency singles out the use of ‘biochar,’ a form of charcoal used extensively by Amazonian Indian cultures as a soil enhancement for centuries, as one means of doing so.
Low in organic carbon, drylands make up some 41.3% of the earth’s land surface. Human populations living in dryland regions susceptible to deforestation, land degradation and drought will reach as high as 2 billion in this decade, according to the UNCCD.
“As regards drylands the inclusion of the potential of soils in carbon sequestration can help to achieve the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC to reduce emissions while guaranteeing the priority sustainability issues of developing and developed countries,” according to the UNCCD proposal. “The contrary is also true, carbon release that happens in drylands impacts in several ways DLDD and negatively impacts sustainable livelihoods, ecosystem management, and global benefits.”
Establishing policy frameworks and instituting and supporting projects that target soil conservation in degraded ecosystems such as drylands would enhance the “capacity of ecosystem services” from these lands, the proposal continues, including “the generation and availability of other goods that improve the living conditions of people living off the land, thus contributing to sustainable food production and food security. Other direct long-term environmental benefits that SLM (sustainable land management) can help to achieve are: the enhancement of soil water storage capacities, and the mitigation of risks of drought and flood prevention.”
Australia’s been a hot spot when it comes to investigating and promoting the use of biochar, which is also known as ‘terra preta’ or ‘black earth’. Check out the video.