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Keywords:

  • Climatic change;
  • organic carbon;
  • agricultural soils;
  • emission;
  • carbon;
  • UK

Abstract. The soil sequestration components of recent estimates of the carbon mitigation potential of UK agricultural land were calculated on the basis of a percentage change to the soil carbon stock present in the soil. Recent data suggest that the carbon stock of soil in UK arable land has been overestimated, meaning that potential soil carbon sequestration rates were also overestimated. Here, we present a new estimate of the carbon stock in UK arable land, and present revised estimates for the carbon mitigation potential of UK agricultural land. The stock of soil organic carbon in UK arable land (0–30 cm) is estimated to be 562 Tg, about half of the previous estimate. Consequently, the soil carbon sequestration component of each mitigation option is reduced by about half of previously published values. Since above-ground carbon accumulation and fossil fuel carbon savings remain unchanged by these new soil carbon data, options with a significant non-soil carbon mitigation component are reduced by less than those resulting from soil carbon sequestration alone. The best single mitigation option (bioenergy crop production on surplus arable land) accounts for 3.5 Tg C yr−1, (2.2% of the UK's 1990 CO2-carbon emissions), whilst an optimal combined land-use mitigation option accounts for 6.1 Tg C yr−1 (3.9% of the UK's 1990 CO2-carbon emissions). These revised figures suggest that through manipulation of arable land, the UK could, at best, meet 49% of its contribution to the EU's overall Kyoto CO2-carbon emission reduction target (8% of 1990 emissions), and 31% of the greater target accepted by the UK (12.5%). Even these reduced estimates show a significant carbon mitigation potential for UK arable land.