Scientists propose eight ways to heal a broken planet ahead of COP24

3 Dec 2018

Image: © Apisit/

There are thousands of actions we can take to reverse climate change, but these eight could be a major step to achieving our goals.

28,000 scientists, politicians and activists – including 40 heads of state – have descended on the Polish city of Katowice for the latest in a series of UN talks that could decide the fate of our planet in the face of devastating climate change.

Kicking off yesterday and holding the opening ceremony today (3 December), COP24 will span the course of the next two weeks, with more than 100 events set to highlight actions to reverse climate change in transport, water, land use, energy and even the fashion industry, all with the goal of keeping the global average rise in temperature to well below two degrees Celsius.

As Ireland’s recent attempts at limiting carbon emissions have shown, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors globally to greenhouse gases. Ahead of COP24, leading scientists from across the world have called for action to increase global soil carbon through sustainable farming.

‘Potential benefits are too large to ignore’

While trees are well known for their ability to absorb CO2, the amount of carbon found in soil is more than twice that. One-third of the world’s soils are already degraded, limiting agricultural production and adding almost 500 gigatons of CO2 to the atmosphere. This amount is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 216bn hectares of US forest.

Penning an opinion piece to Nature, climate change and agricultural scientists who serve on the science and technical committee of the organisation 4 per 1,000 revealed eight steps they believe could recuperate soil carbon stocks to mitigate climate change and boost soil fertility.

These include:

  1. Stopping carbon loss by protecting peatlands through enforcement of regulations against burning and drainage
  2. Identifying and promoting best practices for storing carbon that suit local conditions, such as cover crops, agroforestry, contour farming, terracing, nitrogen-fixing plants and irrigation
  3. Monitoring, reporting and verifying interventions with the highest scientific standard
  4. Deploying the latest technologies for faster, cheaper and more accurate monitoring of soil carbon changes
  5. Determining what works in local conditions by using models and a network of field sites
  6. Employing citizen science to collect data and create an open online platform for sharing
  7. Integrating soil carbon with national climate commitments to the Paris Agreement and other policies on soil and climate
  8. Ensuring technical assistance, incentives to farmers, monitoring systems and carbon taxes to promote widespread implementation

The greatest concern among the researchers is that there is a lack of coordination among stakeholders and no comprehensive database to ensure land restoration. However, this could be bolstered by cost-effective, regular satellite imagery.

“Challenges to achieving large-scale carbon sequestration include nutrient limits, inadequate farmer incentives and lack of organic matter in some places, but even impacts at lesser scales will benefit the climate and food security,” said co-author Lini Wollenberg from the University of Vermont. “The potential benefits are too large to ignore.”

Updated, 10.56am, 3 December 2018: This article was amended to clarify that COP24 started yesterday (2 December) and the opening ceremony is today.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic