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The dynamic soil organic carbon mitigation potential of European cropland

Frank, Stefan, Schmid, Erwin, Havlík, Petr, Schneider, Uwe A., Böttcher, Hannes, Balkovič, Juraj, Obersteiner, Michael
Global environmental change 2015 v.35 pp. 269-278
European Union, carbon, carbon markets, carbon sequestration, carbon sinks, climatic factors, crop rotation, cropland, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, land use change, livestock, models, soil organic carbon, soil properties, soil quality, Europe
Changes in soil organic carbon stocks depend on the management regime and a variety of environmental factors including climatic conditions and soil properties. So far, the dynamics of soil organic carbon have not been explicitly represented in global economic land use optimization models. Here, we apply an approach to represent soil organic carbon dynamics explicitly in a global bottom-up recursive dynamic partial equilibrium model using carbon response functions simulated with a biophysical process-based model. We project soil organic carbon emissions from European cropland to decrease by 40% from 64MtCO2 in 2010 to about 39MtCO2 in 2050 mainly due to saturation effect when soils converge toward their equilibrium after management, crop rotation, or land use change. Moreover, we estimate a soil organic carbon mitigation potential for European cropland between 9 and 38MtCO2 per year until 2050 for carbon prices between 10 and 100 USD/tCO2. The total European mitigation potential including co-benefits from the crop and livestock sector due to the carbon price is even higher with 60MtCO2 equivalents (eq) per year. Thus carbon sequestration in soils could compensate 7% of total emissions from agriculture within the EU, 10% when including co-benefits from the crop and livestock sector. However, as production is reallocated outside Europe with increasing carbon prices, emissions decrease in Europe but increase in the rest of the world (20MtCO2 eq). Preventing GHG emission leakage to the rest of the world would decrease the European soil organic carbon mitigation potential by around 9% and the total European mitigation potential including co-benefits by 16%. Nevertheless, the net global mitigation potential would still increase. We conclude that no significant contributions to emission reduction targets should be expected from the European cropland carbon sequestration options considered in this study.