Soils and climate change

Pete Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


Soils contain vast reserves (similar to 1500 Pg C) of carbon, about twice that found as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Historically, soils in managed ecosystems have lost a portion of this carbon (40-90 Pg C) through land use change, some of which has remained in the atmosphere. In terms of climate change, most projections suggest that soils carbon changes driven by future climate change will range from small losses to moderate gains, but these global trends show considerable regional variation. The response of soil C in future will be determined by a delicate balance between the impacts of increased temperature and decreased soil moisture on decomposition rates, and the balance between changes in C losses from decomposition and C gains through increased productivity. In terms of using soils to mitigate climate change, soil C sequestration globally has a large, cost-competitive mitigation potential. Nevertheless, limitations of soil C sequestration include time-limitation, non-permanence, displacement and difficulties in verification. Despite these limitations, soil C sequestration can be useful to meet short-term to medium-term targets, and confers a number of co-benefits on soils, making it a viable option for reducing the short term atmospheric CO2 concentration, thus buying time to develop longer term emission reduction solutions across all sectors of the economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-544
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
Issue number5
Early online date27 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • land-use change
  • greenhouse-gas mitigation
  • carbon-cycle
  • organic-carbon
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • projected changes
  • agriculture
  • sequestration
  • model
  • feedbacks


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