UN agency highlights potential to fight climate change with grasslands

Grasslands hold vast potential to fight climate change

13 January 2010 – Properly managed grasslands – even more than forests – could fight climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, according to a newly released report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The world’s nearly 3.4 billion hectares of grasslands store 30 per cent of global soil carbon in addition to the substantial amount of above-ground carbon held in trees, bushes, shrubs and grasses. They also account for 70 per cent of agricultural land.

In its report “Review of Evidence on Drylands Pastoral Systems and Climate Change,” FAO noted that grasslands could play a major role in supporting the adaptation and reducing the vulnerability to climate change for the more than one billion people who depend on livestock for a living.

FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller said that the world will have to use all options to contain average global warming within 2 degrees Celsius. He noted that “agriculture and land use have the potential to help minimize net greenhouse gas emissions through specific practices, especially building soil and biomass carbon. These practices can at the same time increase the productivity and resilience of agriculture, thus contributing to food security and poverty reduction.”

The report also noted that grasslands help improve the soil’s water retention capacity and thus can help its ability to withstand drought, and help safeguard biodiversity.

In addition, it cautioned that grasslands are particularly sensitive to land degradation, which affects some 70 per cent of pastures as a result of overgrazing, salinization, acidification and other processes. Pressure on the land is also due to the need to meet fast-growing demand for meat and dairy products.

In November 2009, FAO released a report in which it said that the world’s farmlands can be the frontline for the fight against the impact of climate change and the battle to feed the mounting global population.

Improvements in cropland and grazing land management as well as the restoration of organic soils and degraded lands are the most significant technical measures to lessen the impact of climate change.

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