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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Achievable agricultural soil carbon sequestration across Europe from country-specific estimates

Rodrigues, Leonor; Hardy, Brieuc; Huyghebeart, Bruno; Fohrafellner, Julia; Fornara, Dario; Barancikova, Gabriela; Barcena, Teresa G.; De Boever, Maarten; Di Bene, Claudia; Feiziene, Dalia; Kaetterer, Thomas; Laszlo, Peter; O'Sullivan, Lilian; Seitz, Daria; Leifeld, Jens


The role of soils in the global carbon cycle and in reducing GHG emissions from agriculture has been increasingly acknowledged. The '4 per 1000' (4p1000) initiative has become a prominent action plan for climate change mitigation and achieve food security through an annual increase in soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks by 0.4%, (i.e. 4 parts per thousand per year). However, the feasibility of the 4p1000 scenario and, more generally, the capacity of individual countries to implement soil carbon sequestration (SCS) measures remain highly uncertain. Here, we evaluated country-specific SCS potentials of agricultural land for 24 countries in Europe. Based on a detailed survey of available literature, we estimate that between 0.1% and 27% of the agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can potentially be compensated by SCS annually within the next decades. Measures varied widely across countries, indicating differences in country-specific environmental conditions and agricultural practices. None of the countries' SCS potential reached the aspirational goal of the 4p1000 initiative, suggesting that in order to achieve this goal, a wider range of measures and implementation pathways need to be explored. Yet, SCS potentials exceeded those from previous pan-European modelling scenarios, underpinning the general need to include national/regional knowledge and expertise to improve estimates of SCS potentials. The complexity of the chosen SCS measurement approaches between countries ranked from tier 1 to tier 3 and included the effect of different controlling factors, suggesting that methodological improvements and standardization of SCS accounting are urgently required. Standardization should include the assessment of key controlling factors such as realistic areas, technical and practical feasibility, trade-offs with other GHG and climate change. Our analysis suggests that country-specific knowledge and SCS estimates together with improved data sharing and harmonization are crucial to better quantify the role of soils in offsetting anthropogenic GHG emissions at global level.


4 per 1000 initiative; agricultural management; climate change; Europe; GHG mitigation; soil carbon sequestration

Published in

Global Change Biology
2021, volume: 27, number: 24, pages: 6363-6380
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Rodrigues, Leonor
Swiss Federal Research Station Agroscope
Hardy, Brieuc
Walloon Agricultural Research Centre
Huyghebeart, Bruno
Walloon Agricultural Research Centre
Fohrafellner, Julia
BIOS Science Austria
Fornara, Dario
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Barancikova, Gabriela
University of Presov
Barcena, Teresa G.
Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research
De Boever, Maarten
Institute For Agricultural and Fisheries Research
Di Bene, Claudia
Consiglio per la Ricerca in Agricoltura e L'analisi Dell'economia Agraria (CREA)
Feizienė, Dalia
Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Laszlo, Peter
Hungarian Centre for Agricultural Research
O'Sullivan, Lilian
Seitz, Daria
Johann Heinrich von Thunen Institute
Leifeld, Jens
Swiss Federal Research Station Agroscope

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action
SDG17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science
Agricultural Science

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