Grazing lands reduce greenhouse gases

Jan 29, 2010
by WLJ
Grazing lands reduce greenhouse gases

A green pasture with grazing animals offers an idyllic image of our natural environment. With the current focus on climate change, such a pasture has much more to offer than image. Through effective policy implementation, grazing lands can reduce greenhouse gases through carbon sequestration and emissions reductions offset credits.

Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in the ground or oceans, slowing the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere enters the soil of grazing lands through the natural process of photosynthesis by green plants.

The subsequent cycling turns some of that carbon into soil organic carbon— and into an environmental, societal and economic benefit for every country with these grazing lands.

“Offset credits are a viable, important cost-containment mechanism for capand-trade approaches to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions programs,” according to an article in the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management. Greenhouse gas emission policies can provide incentives and monetary awards for land management that leads to greater soil carbon offer much potential. Land management practices are integral to maintaining or improving grasslands with the goal of protecting soil, water and air quality as well as wildlife habitat.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has officially identified carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases as public health hazards. Greenhouse gases and grazing lands are the topic of a special issue of the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management featuring contributions from an international group of rangeland ecologists, economists, and social scientists. One of the articles in the January 2010 issue discusses societal benefits and policy implications of soil carbon sequestration from the U.S. perspective, while another article examines the matter in West Africa.

In the U.S., the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the “Farm Bill”) contains new programs enabling agricultural producers to increase soil carbon in grazing land soils, but no regional or state mandatory policies exist that recognize this as a certifiable offset. Legislation currently in the U.S. Congress would recognize soil carbon sequestration, including on grazing lands, as a valid offset. Agricultural mitigation strategies are likely to be recognized and adopted for the future environmental framework.

In less developed countries with high poverty rates, credits offer a socioeconomic opportunity. However, carbon offsets from agricultural sources are currently limited under regulatory cap-and-trade regimes, and prices in voluntary markets are relatively low, the article reports.

About 2 percent of the global soil organic carbon reserves are estimated to be in West Africa—more than any other single region of the world. Using carbon credits for poverty reduction and to avoid further degradation or to restore lightly degraded lands is an achievable method to sequester carbon at very low cost over extensive areas. Improving the management of West African grazing lands can increase livestock productivity and agricultural income as well, thus improving the situation of some of the world’s poorest people. — WLJ