Investing in the ground beneath our feet could have wide-ranging benefits for the environment, animal and human health – as well as moving closer to net zero, according to research led by the Institute for Global Food Safety (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast.
Soil acts as a carbon sink, locking in greenhouse gases (GHG) that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Upgrading UK soils, particularly farmland and degraded peatlands, could radically improve their ability to store carbon.
In fact, improved soil and land management could result in the potential to offset 5-10% of global GHG emissions, the researchers claim.
Improving soils would also create a host of additional benefits including ecosystem services, making it a ‘win-win’, according to the scientists.
Benefits of healthy soils
Spinoff benefits could include improved biodiversity; flood and erosion mitigation; increased crop yields (important in terms of a growing global population); better animal health and welfare; a reduced need for artificial fertilisers and therefore less pollution and enhanced nutritional value of food produced.
These reported benefits map on to many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including Climate Action; Life On Land; Zero Hunger and Good Health and Wellbeing.
In a paper published in Food and Energy Security journal, a multi-disciplinary group of academic scientists, along with prominent UK agriculture campaigner Lord Curry of Kirkharle, suggest that investing in the quality of earth to enhance its ability to ‘lock in’ carbon should be a central pillar in the national and global push towards net zero.
Governments, however, need to quickly implement ‘regenerative agriculture’ policies to incentivise farmers to take up the challenge, the researchers argue.
‘There are no magic bullets for tackling climate change, and we must de-carbonise all sectors of the economy as quickly as possible. But soil carbon sinks are an important, natural way of balancing the emissions that remain in 2050 – to help us achieve net zero by mid-century.’
PROFESSOR PETE SMIT
Co-author, University of Aberdeen and science director of the Scottish Climate Change Centre of Expertise