Soils Research to deliver Greenhouse Gas REmovals and Abatement Technologies (Soils-R-GGREAT)

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

GGR Consortium - Soils Research to deliver Greenhouse Gas REmovals and Abatement Technologies (Soils-R-GGREAT). Scenario modelling studies show that it is unlikely that we will be able to meet the target to limit climate warming to "well below 2 degrees C" outlined in the Paris Agreement without removing a significant quantity of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. It appears to be virtually impossible to meet the aspirational target of 1.5 degrees C of warming without greenhouse gas removal (GGR) from the atmosphere. Given the importance of GGR for climate stabilization, the global potential, feasibility, barriers and impacts of GGR technologies need to be assessed. Preliminary analysis suggests that widespread implementation of GGRs could have significant impacts on land competition, greenhouse gas emissions, physical climate feedbacks (e.g. albedo), water requirements, nutrient use, energy and cost, but that soil carbon sequestration and biochar used as GGR practices have significant potential for GGR (4-6 thousand million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, together), and can do so with much less competition for land, water and nutrients than, for example bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and afforestation, and at much lower cost than enhanced mineral weathering and direct air capture of carbon dioxide. In addition, soil-based GGRs could help deliver other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly 1, 2, 13 and 15 (poverty, hunger, climate and life on land). Yet constraints due to high uncertainties about the GGR achievable, the need for site-specific options and incentives, social and ecological impacts, and the risk of impermanence have limited soil-based GGR to date. In this project, we will focus on soil carbon sequestration through improved land management, and the addition of biochar to soils to increase soil carbon storage. We will work closely with other consortia to ensure consistency across assumptions about land and resource availability. In the Soils-R-GGREAT project we have harnessed the best expertise in the UK on soils and biochar to provide a comprehensive global assessment of soil-based GGRs.

We will use a combination of life cycle assessment (LCA), scenario database analysis, network data analysis, meta-analysis, biophysical modelling, economic modelling, stakeholder engagement and expert consultation to deliver the most rigorous and comprehensive global assessment of potential, feasibility, barriers and impacts of soil-based GGRs. The achievements / outputs from the project will be an assessment of the technical and cost-effective potential for soil-based GGRs globally and regionally, identification of technical options, an assessment of the socio-cultural-ecological impacts of soil-based GGRs and their ability to co-deliver to SDGs 1,2,13,15, an analysis of the current policy barriers preventing implementation and options for future policies to enable widespread adoption of soil-based GGRs, and an assessment of how soil-based GGRs can be integrated into portfolios of other GGR technologies, and other greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts. Interim results will be published by the end of 2017 to feed into the IPCC Special Reports on the "1.5 degree C target", and "land use and climate change".

Planned Impact

At UK level, the Soils-R-GRREAT project will provide evidence on national and global potential of soil based GGRs to support national climate change policy at the UK, and devolved administration levels. Project outputs will provide evidence to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) BEIS and the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The team is already working with the CCC to define the potential for land-based GGRs, and feeds into the work of BEIS. Since the CCC provides statutory advice on national carbon budgets and future UK reporting requirements (through Nationally Determined Contributions; NDCs) of the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In addition to BEIS and CCC, we have made contact with other relevant UK stakeholders, particularly those concerned with soil policy in the Soils Team in Defra, the Welsh Government and Scottish Government.

At international level, the work will contribute to, and use output from, three significant global initiatives aimed at assessing and implementing GGR through soils: 1) the International Soil Carbon Network (ISCN) which is collating global data (site level and soil survey) to assess changes in soil C, for which PS is on the International Advisory Board, 2) The Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases, which has a theme on global soil carbon sequestration (PS leads the farm level theme), and 3) the International "4 per 1000" initiative, an outcome of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015, for which PS and L Wollenberg are on the Scientific and Technical Committee. The work also aligns with work being undertaken on the Global Carbon Project under the Managing Global Negative Emissions (MagNET).

This project will also contribute significantly to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the context of its 6th Assessment Report. PS has applied for the convening lead author role on land use mitigation for AR6 (2021), a role he had for AR4 and AR5. We intend to publish preliminary outputs after 9 months so that they can be cited and used in the two Special Reports on "land use and climate change" (for which PS is on the Science Steering Committee), and the "1.5 degree target". A support letter from IPCC is provided. Where appropriate, outputs will also be made accessible to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Our stakeholder engagement process will enable national and international stakeholders to provide input at various stages in the project. Our project partner CCAFS represent the CGIAR system, and so will facilitate input globally from the CGIAR system, but also global outreach to this community. A budget of £10,000 is allocated to stakeholder consultation, which will cover travel and subsistence to allow project researchers to interview key respondents, and venue hire, and travel and subsistence for invitees at the dedicated expert stakeholder workshop to be held in project month 40. Invitees will include policy makers from BEIS, Defra, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, scientists from the CCC, representatives from IPCC WGIII, non BEIS/CCC members of the project advisory board and key international representatives from the FAO, ISCN, Global Research Alliance and the 4per1000 initiative.

Real world impact will be delivered through our networks of land managers including a) numerous national and international projects on soil management among consortium partners, b) partner networks across the globe via CCAFS / CGIAR, and c) practitioner networks through the Global Research Alliance, ISCN and the 4per1000 initiative. We will provide advice on and promote sustainable soil management practices that co-deliver to soil GGR, and contribute to the SDGs.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/P019498/1 20/06/2017 19/06/2022
2047037 Studentship NE/P019498/1 03/06/2018 02/06/2021 David Lebfevre
 
Description The application of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to soil carbonation in Brazil showed that earlier non-LCA estimates of large scale opportunities for net carbon dioxide in soil were about twice what is possible for reasonable scenarios of transport and processing.
Modelling biochar production and use in Brazilian sugarcane systems was investigated and a predictive model was tested against experimental data. The modified model was modelled against published field data, and found satisfactory agreement between observed and predicted soil C accumulation. The model was used to explore the potential for soil C sequestration with sugarcane biochar in São Paulo State, Brazil. The results show a potential increase in soil C stocks by 2.35 ± 0.4 t C ha-1 year-1 in sugarcane field, which makes if a very promising technology for fighting climate change.
A life cycle assessment model of wheat is being combined with outputs of the ECOSSE soils model to allow the effects of soil management to increase C sequestration to be coupled with the above ground activities of crop husbandry. Substantial climate benefits are found from the soil management practices and the reduced fuel use.
Overall, the processes associated with biochar production lower the net greenhouse gas benefits of the biochar by around 25%. Our analysis suggests that allocating 100% of the available sugarcane residues to biochar production could sequester 6.3 ± 0.5 t CO2 eq ha -1 yr -1 of sugarcane in Sao Paulo State. Scaled up to the entire State, the practice would lead to the removal of 23% of the total GHG emissions from the State in 2016.

The number of reforestation projects worldwide is increasing. In many cases funding is obtained through the claimed carbon capture of the trees, presented as immediate and durable, whereas reforested plots need time and maintenance to realise their carbon capture potential. Further, claims usually overlook the environmental costs of natural or anthropogenic disturbances during the forest's lifetime, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the reforestation are not allowed for. This study uses life cycle assessment to quantify the carbon footprint of setting up a reforestation plot in the Peruvian Amazon. In parallel, we combine a soil carbon model with an above- and below-ground plant carbon model to predict the increase in carbon stocks after planting. We compare our results with the carbon capture claims made by a reforestation platform. Our results show major errors in carbon accounting in reforestation projects if they (1) ignore the time needed for trees to reach their carbon capture potential; (2) ignore the GHG emissions involved in setting up a plot; (3) report the carbon capture potential per tree planted, thereby ignoring limitations at the forest ecosystem level; or (4) under-estimate tree losses due to inevitable human and climatic disturbances. Further, we show that applications of biochar during reforestation can partially compensate for project emissions.
Exploitation Route These findings will contribute further to assess the greenhouse gas removal potential of soil management practices. E.g. there are synergies between C sequestration in soils and reducing fossil energy use, which benefits are identified and quantified through Life Cycle Assessment.

These findings also contribute to identifying sources of uncertainties in the assessment of soil management practices for greenhouse gas removal.

These findings will contribute further to assess the greenhouse gas removal potential of soil management practices. E.g. there are synergies between C sequestration in soils and reducing fossil energy use, which benefits are identified and quantified through Life Cycle Assessment.
These findings also contribute to identifying sources of uncertainties in the assessment of soil management practices for greenhouse gas removal.

We identified the enormous potential for GHG removal by agriculture in Brazil and by analogy elsewhere. There is a great opportunity to use these results both to influence policy and help inform farmers directly of the potential of enhanced soil management in the fight against the negative aspects of climate change.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description The findings of the work package on life cycle assessment informed climate change policy and farmer on the potential that soil management practices have in mitigating the greenhouse gas effects through both sequestration and reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description NERC GGRT Programme event 27-28 June 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentations to the NERC GGRT Programme event 27-28 June 2019, Royal Holloway University and participation in group activities.
The event provided a great opportunity to present our work, discuss it with others, obtain feedback and provide it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2021
 
Description Farm System Advisors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Approaches to mitigating GHG emissions and C sequestration at were presented and discussed. The advisers were interested in the concepts and how these could be implemented.
An extended interaction with one led to participation in a joint project proposal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Farmer Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A workshop was run for a farming company, including farm managers and policymakers. This was about improving environmental performance and focussed on soil health, GHG emissions and water management. That was much interest in the potential for C sequestration by soils and how they could move towards a place in which they could benchmark GHG emission and the potential for C sequestration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019