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Finding Common Ground for Scientists and Policymakers on Soil Carbon and Climate Change

There is growing interest in the potential for soil carbon to mitigate climate change, brought into the public sphere at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. There, the French government launched an international initiative, “4per1000,” aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by building soil carbon.
The ambitious initiative has increased visibility, but also led to disagreements among scientists over how much carbon can realistically be stored in soil.
In an opinion published this week in Nature Sustainability, a group of scientists argues that this disagreement is part of the normal scientific process. However, they posit, the public debate is undermining the potential for policymakers to implement policies that build soil carbon for other environmental and agricultural benefits.
“A lot of scientists began arguing about the feasibility of increasing soil carbon year-on-year at a rate consistent with the 4per1000 goal,” said Mark Bradford, professor of soils and ecosystem ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). “There were many good scientists backing this initiative, but many others who were skeptical of the number.”

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