What is the trend in soil organic carbon in Europe?

Policy Question
Indicator codes: LSI 005

Key messages

(12 Nov 2012)

  • Soil carbon stocks in the EU-27 are around 75 billion tonnes of carbon; around 50 % of which is located in Ireland, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (because of the large area of peatlands in these countries).
  • The largest emissions of CO2 from soils are due to conversion (drainage) of organic soils, and amount to 20–40 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. The most effective option to manage soil carbon in order to mitigate climate change is to preserve existing stocks in soils, and especially the large stocks in peat and other soils with a high content of organic carbon.
  • On average, soils in Europe are most likely to be accumulating carbon. Soils under grassland and forests are a carbon sink (estimated up to 80 million tonnes of carbon per year) whereas soils under arable land are a smaller carbon source (estimated from 10–40 million tonnes of carbon per year).
  • The effects of climate change on soil organic carbon and soil respiration are complex, and depend on distinct climatic and biotic drivers. However, they lack rigorous supporting datasets.
  • Climate change is expected to have an impact on soil carbon in the long term, but changes in the short term will more likely be driven by land management practices and land use change

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