Clarifying Carbon 101
Carbon sequestration and carbon storage. We hear these two terms used interchangeably these days as society grapples with how to reduce carbon dioxide entering our atmosphere. But they mean different things, and can affect how we plan for stewardship of our land. Conservation of land can help reduce carbon emissions and store more carbon in the landscape.
Carbon is released naturally (through plant photosynthesis and animal respiration) and by human activity (by burning fossil fuels). Natural systems play a vital role in capturing the excess carbon that is released into the atmosphere. Reservoirs that retain carbon and keep it from entering earth’s atmosphere are known as carbon sinks.
- Carbon storage, simply put, is the amount of carbon that is stored in plant materials and soils.
- Carbon sequestration refers to the rate at which carbon is taken out of the atmosphere on an annual basis.
For example, young healthy growing forests will sequester more carbon per year than an older growth forest. An older growth forest with more surface area above and below ground will store more carbon. Good farming practices can improve the storage of carbon in the soil.
Both carbon sequestration and storage are important in our collective goal of reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Natural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030 for a greater than 66% chance of holding global warming below 2°C. Land conservation plays an integral role in both sequestration and storage through improved management of forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands.