Negative erosion and negative emissions: Combining multiple land-based carbon dioxide removal techniques to rebuild fertile topsoils and enhance food production

Ivan A. Janssens*, Dries Roobroeck, Jordi Sardans, Michael Obersteiner, Josep Peñuelas, Andreas Richter, Pete Smith, Erik Verbruggen, Sara Vicca

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that increases the area of forest cover or bio-energy crops inherently competes for land with crop and livestock systems, compromising food security, or will encroach natural lands, compromising biodiversity. Mass deployment of these terrestrial CDR technologies to reverse climate change therefore cannot be achieved without a substantial intensification of agricultural output, i.e., producing more food on less land. This poses a major challenge, particularly in regions where arable land is little available or severely degraded and where agriculture is crucial to sustain people's livelihoods, such as the Global South. Enhanced silicate weathering, biochar amendment, and soil carbon sequestration are CDR techniques that avoid this competition for land and may even bring about multiple co-benefits for food production. This paper elaborates on the idea to take these latter CDR technologies a step further and use them not only to drawdown CO2 from the atmosphere, but also to rebuild fertile soils (negative erosion) in areas that suffer from pervasive land degradation and have enough water available for agriculture. This way of engineering topsoil could contribute to the fight against malnutrition in areas where crop and livestock production currently is hampered by surface erosion and nutrient depletion, and thereby alleviate pressure on intact ecosystems. The thrust of this perspective is that synergistically applying multiple soil-related CDR strategies could restore previously degraded soil, allowing it to come back into food production (or become more productive), potentially alleviating pressure on intact ecosystems. In addition to removing CO2 from the atmosphere, this practice could thus contribute to reducing poverty and hunger and to protection of biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number928403
JournalFrontiers in Climate
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO) and by the European Commissions (H2020 FET-open project Super Bio-Accelerated Mineral weathering: A new climate risk hedging reactor technology—“BAM”). JS was supported by Spanish Government Project PID2020115770RB-I.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Janssens, Roobroeck, Sardans, Obersteiner, Peñuelas, Richter, Smith, Verbruggen and Vicca.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.


  • biochar
  • engineering soils
  • enhanced weathering
  • food security
  • soil carbon storage
  • undoing soil degradation


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