Land is a critical component of the climate system, actively engaged in the flows of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen—essential building blocks for life. Carbon is the core of trees and grasses, mammals and birds, lichens and microbes. It’s the fundamental material of all living organisms. Plants and healthy ecosystems absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in biomass.
In addition, soils are, in large part, organic matter—bits of once-living organisms, now decomposing—making them an enormous storehouse of carbon. As a result, land can be a powerful carbon sink, and sinks currently remove close to one-quarter of human-caused emissions from the atmosphere.
How can we help sequester more carbon in biomass and soil? What can we do to support and enhance natural processes that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and minimize the addition of more?
These questions matter not only for emissions but also for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Because soil with more carbon content can also be more productive and resilient, these questions are critical for building a thriving food system, too.
Climate solutions that enhance land-based greenhouse gas sinks cluster around waste and diets, ecosystem protection and restoration, improved agriculture practices, and prudent use of degraded land.
Address Waste and Diets
Reducing food waste and shifting to plant-rich diets can reduce the destruction of carbon-sequestering trees by reducing the need to transform diverse, healthy ecosystems into croplands and pastures. Lower demand for food and farmland spares nature from additional clearing, protecting carbon sinks and benefiting biodiversity at the same time.
Protect and Restore Ecosystems
“Let nature be nature” is a powerful principle—let peatlands, grasslands, and forests continue to do what they do best in a natural state. Where ecosystems have been degraded, restoration can help them recover form and function, including absorbing and storing more carbon over time.
Shift Agriculture Practices
What and how we grow, graze, or harvest can affect our ability to store carbon in plants and soil. The integration of trees into farming through agroforestry practices is particularly powerful. Solutions that sustainably raise yields on existing farmland can also reduce the pressure to clear other areas.
Use Degraded Land
Degraded lands can be put to use in ways that revive productivity, increase biomass, and promote soil carbon sequestration—all while producing wood, fiber, or food.
Some drawdown solutions both reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land and support land-based carbon sinks. All are critical to restoring balance to the planet’s living systems.
All told, land sinks currently absorb roughly 24 percent of carbon-dioxide-equivalent anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere each year. When we consider other greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, land absorbs approximately 26 percent of the total emissions.