Report Says Grasslands Can Help Combat Climate Change

A new report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says grasslands have vast untapped potential to limit climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. The report says proper land use can also help one billion people who depend on livestock. 

The United Nations report says if pastures and rangelands are properly managed, they can be a useful carbon sink - potentially more powerful than forests in the battle against climate change.  The report says that agricultural lands can help control global warming by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  At the same time,  the report also states that these kinds of agriculture practices can increase land productivity which will lead to stronger food security.    

Constance Neely co-authored the report.

"Grasslands represent the majority of the world's agricultural area and they hold an enormous amount of the soil carbon, so we have a fantastic potential to have both better livelihoods and a better natural resource base while mitigating and adapting to climate change," said Constance Neely.

Grasslands cover around 30 percent of the earth's ice-free land and account for 70 percent of its agricultural land. But land degradation, made worse by high demands for meat and dairy products, affects around 70 percent of pastures.

The report says that by protecting the earth's soil, an estimated 1 billion metric tons of carbon could be stored a year.

And in the process, says Neely, food could be made more secure and poverty reduced by helping pastoralists sustain their livelihood.

She says livestock is one of the key factors blamed for land degradation, but that if properly managed livestock is good for soil.

"You're taking advantage of three things," she said. "One, is you're getting the hoof action on the soil, so often you're breaking a soil crust which allows the rainfall that does come to actually go into the soil. And you're getting the manure and you're getting the urine as well, which is fertilizing the soil."

The report suggests placing 5-10 percent of global grazing lands under carbon sequestration management by 2020, which it says could store 184 million metric tons of carbon a year.

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