Soil carbon sequestration in grazing systems: managing expectations

Cécile Marie Godde*, Imke J.M. de Boer, Erasmus zu Ermgassen , Mario Herrero, Corina E. van Middelaar, Adrian Muller, Elin Röös, Christian Schader, Pete Smith, Hannah H.E. van Zanten, Tara Garnett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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Grazing systems emit greenhouse gases, which can, under specific agro-ecological conditions, be partly or entirely offset by soil carbon sequestration. However, any sequestration is time-limited, reversible and at a global level outweighed by emissions from grazing systems. Thus, grazing systems are globally a net contributor to climate change and the time scale of key processes needs to be factored into any mitigation efforts. Failing to do so leads to unrealistic expectations of soil carbon management in grazing systems as a mitigation strategy. Protecting the large carbon stocks in grazing lands is also essential in order to avoid further climate change from additional CO2 release. Despite the time-limited and reversible nature of soil carbon sequestration in grazing lands, sequestration should be promoted in cases where it delivers environmental and agronomic benefits as well as for its potential, particularly on degraded land, to increase the feasibility of limiting global warming to less than 2 or preferably 1.5°C. Some peer-reviewed sequestration estimates are of a similar order of magnitude to other food systems mitigation options over a 10—20 years period, such as reducing food loss and waste by 15% or aligning diets with current health related dietary-recommendations. However, caution should be applied to such comparisons since mitigation estimates are associated with large uncertainties and will ultimately depend on the economic cost-benefit relation, feasibility of implementation and time frame considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-391
Number of pages7
JournalClimatic Change
Early online date5 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

The inputs of C.M.G., M.H., and P.S. contribute to the project DEVIL [NE/M021327/1]. The input of P.S. also contributes to the following projects: U-GRASS [NE/M016900/1] and Soils-R-GRREAT [NE/P019455/1]. We thank the Centre of Organic Production and Consumption (EPOK) at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences for funding E.R.’s part of the research.


  • Soil carbon sequestration in grazing systems
  • managing expectations
  • Grasslands
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Climate change
  • Cattle
  • Livestock
  • Soil carbon


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