Characterising the biophysical, economic and social impacts of soil carbon sequestration as a greenhouse gas removal technology

AJ Sykes*, M MacLeod, V Eory, RM Rees, F. T. Payen, VM Myrgiotis, Matthew Williams, Saran Sohi, Jon Hillier, Dominic Moran, David Manning, Pietro Goglio, Michele Seghetta, Adrian Williams, Jim Harris, Marta Dondini, Jack Walton, Joanna House, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
136 Downloads (Pure)


To limit warming to well below 2°C, most scenario projections rely on greenhouse gas removal technologies (GGRTs); one such GGRT uses soil carbon sequestration (SCS) in agricultural land. In addition to their role in mitigating climate change, SCS practices play a role in delivering agroecosystem resilience, climate change adaptability and food security. Environmental heterogeneity and differences in agricultural practices challenge the practical implementation of SCS, and our analysis addresses the associated knowledge gap. Previous assessments have focused on global potentials, but there is a need among policymakers to operationalise SCS. Here, we assess a range of practices already proposed to deliver SCS, and distil these into a subset of specific measures. We provide a multidisciplinary summary of the barriers and potential incentives towards practical implementation of these measures. First, we identify specific practices with potential for both a positive impact on SCS at farm level and an uptake rate compatible with global impact. These focus on: (a) optimising crop primary productivity (e.g. nutrient optimisation, pH management, irrigation); (b) reducing soil disturbance and managing soil physical properties (e.g. improved rotations, minimum till); (c) minimising deliberate removal of C or lateral transport via erosion processes (e.g. support measures, bare fallow reduction); (d) addition of C produced outside the system (e.g. organic manure amendments, biochar addition); (e) provision of additional C inputs within the cropping system (e.g. agroforestry, cover cropping). We then consider economic and non-cost barriers and incentives for land managers implementing these measures, along with the potential externalised impacts of implementation. This offers a framework and reference point for holistic assessment of the impacts of SCS. Finally, we summarise and discuss the ability of extant scientific approaches to quantify the technical potential and externalities of SCS measures, and the barriers and incentives to their implementation in global agricultural systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085-1108
Number of pages24
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
Early online date18 Sept 2019
Publication statusPrint publication - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • 4 per mille
  • agriculture
  • greenhouse gas removal
  • negative emissions
  • soil carbon sequestration
  • soil organic carbon


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