Reducing carbon emissions in China doesn't have to be expensive — there is huge potential for storing carbon in the soil, says botanist Jiang Gaoming.
There are 1.2 million square kilometres of farmland in China, with an average carbon storage capacity of 1.2 tonnes per square metre.
But countries have a history of using, rather than managing, land, which depletes the organic content of soil and releases carbon dioxide into the environment. The organic content of soil in northeast China, for example, has fallen from 12 per cent to around one per cent over the last six or seven decades.
Increasing all of China's soil organic content by one per cent would be equivalent to absorbing about 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, he says.
Jiang suggests that farmers could use unwanted straw for animal fodder instead of burning it and rural households could use livestock dung to generate electricity. The waste from this process could itself be used as a high-quality fertiliser to increase the organic content of the soil, he adds.
Sequestering carbon in soil deserves policy support, concludes Jiang, so that it can ultimately become part of the global carbon-trading system.