EEA Brief: European soils hold potential for stronger climate action

EEA Brief: European soils hold potential for stronger climate action

The EEA briefing ‘Soil carbon

EU Member States reported loss of carbon from organic soils that corresponds to about 108 Megatonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) emissions in 2019. In the same year, mineral soils removed about 44Mt of CO2 from the atmosphere. The net greenhouse gas emissions from soils, about 64Mt of CO2 equivalent, corresponded to just under 2% of the overall EU net emissions in 2019, or about half of the EU share of emissions from international aviation.

About three quarters of EU organic soils are in just two Member States, Sweden and Finland, the EEA briefing shows. Overall emissions from organic soils are by far highest in Germany, due to the high share of its organic soils under cropland and grassland. The highest carbon losses per hectare originate from peat extraction, mainly in Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Estonia and Germany.

There are are mitigation options, such as peatland restauration or agroforestry, to increase the carbon sequestration of soils and decrease carbon losses, which in many cases can also benefit for example biodiversity or water quality. Depending on the soil type, local climate and how the land is managed, however, mitigation actions can increase emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4) and nitrous dioxide (N2O), or have negative consequences on biodiversity or food production.

The EEA briefing also highlights the importance of developing and using scientifically sound methods for estimating the climate impacts of different land management practices, as well as their impact on nature restoration.

Overall, the EU land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector is a significant carbon sink that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. However, there are large differences between countries because of the size of the country, how the land is used and the type of soils. The EU has committed to reducing its net greenhouse emissions by 55% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, and become carbon neutral by 2050.

Key messages

- Soils are both gaining and losing carbon depending on soil type, management and climate condition, hence there are natural differences between countries on the net greenhouse gas effect. Overall, EU soilsare losing carbon as CO2 emissions, which could hamper the ambition of European Union climate targets if this trend is not reversed.

- The cultivation and drainage of organic soil causes significant CO2 emissions. For 2019, EU Member States reported a loss of carbon from17.8Mha of land with organic soil (4.2% of the total land area), corresponding to emissions of 108Mt CO2, while 387.6Mha of mineral soil secured net removals of 44Mt CO2.

- Mitigation options include actions leading to more sequestration or reduced loss of carbon, and can in many cases offer important co-benefits. However, trade-offs can occur — including an increase in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions— and can have negative consequences for biodiversity and food production. Thus, careful consideration of co-impacts should be considered when planning and implementing different land use practices.

Full briefing is available here

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