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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Inst of Biological and Environmental Sci


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.


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