Carbon sequestration potential in European croplands has been overestimated


Pete Smith, tel. +44 (0)1224 272702, fax +44 (0)1224 272703, e-mail:


Yearly, per-area carbon sequestration rates are used to estimate mitigation potentials by comparing types and areas of land management in 1990 and 2000 and projected to 2010, for the European Union (EU)-15 and for four country-level case studies for which data are available: UK, Sweden, Belgium and Finland. Because cropland area is decreasing in these countries (except for Belgium), and in most European countries there are no incentives in place to encourage soil carbon sequestration, carbon sequestration between 1990 and 2000 was small or negative in the EU-15 and all case study countries. Belgium has a slightly higher estimate for carbon sequestration than the other countries examined. This is at odds with previous reports of decreasing soil organic carbon stocks in Flanders. For all countries except Belgium, carbon sequestration is predicted to be negligible or negative by 2010, based on extrapolated trends, and is small even in Belgium. The only trend in agriculture that may be enhancing carbon stocks on croplands at present is organic farming, and the magnitude of this effect is highly uncertain.

Previous studies have focused on the potential for carbon sequestration and have shown quite significant potential. This study, which examines the sequestration likely to occur by 2010, suggests that the potential will not be realized. Without incentives for carbon sequestration in the future, cropland carbon sequestration under Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol will not be an option in EU-15.