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EU report highlights soils-climate change link
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A report of the European Commission warns that poor management of the soil can have serious consequences on climate change.

Soils in the European Union (EU) are an enormous carbon reservoir, containing between 73 and 79 billion tons. Almost 50 percent of this carbon is sequestered in the peat bogs of Sweden, Finland, Britain and Ireland, says the report, which was published on Thursday.

Even a tiny 0.1 percent of carbon emitted into the atmosphere from EU soils is the equivalent to the carbon emission of 100 million extra cars on the roads -- an increase of about half of the existing car fleet, says the report.

The most realistic option to maintain and improve soil carbon stocks is to protect these soils, particularly the peat bogs, concludes the report.

Pristine peat lands covering a surface area of around 310,000 square kilometers -- an area equivalent to half of France -- have now been lost to agriculture, forestry, urbanization or erosion and more than half of the remaining areas are also being drained, it notes.

Agricultural practices also need to be improved to minimize carbon losses, says the report.

Good practices, such as ensuring that soils are protected against water and rain with a permanent vegetation cover, less intrusive ploughing techniques and less machinery, could sequester between 50 and 100 million tons of carbon annually in EU soils.

Land conversions from grassland and forest to croplands should be halted as carbon is lost from soils when grasslands, managed forest lands or native ecosystems are converted to croplands. But the report points out this may conflict with growing food demand.

"Properly managed soils can absorb enormous quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, buying us valuable time to reduce emissions and move toward sustainability. But Europe's soils urgently need better protection, and the answer must be a coordinated solution," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2009)

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