Global Soil Partnership

  • awareness raising
  • soil biodiversity
  • capacity development
  • soil information and data
  • soil erosion
  • soil fertility
  • soil governance
  • soil pollution
  • soil salinity
  • soil organic carbon

Soil organic carbon


Soil organic carbon is crucial to soil health, fertility and ecosystem services

Soil holds three times as much carbon as in the atmosphere

Subsoils have massive potential for carbon sequestration


Soil organic carbon (the carbon stored in soil organic matter) is crucial to soil health, fertility and ecosystem services, including food production – making its preservation and restoration essential for sustainable development. Soils with high carbon content are likely to be more productive and better able to filter and purify water. Soil organic carbon plays a big role in climate change, presenting both a threat and an opportunity to help meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

The degradation of one third of the world’s soils has released up to 78 Gt of carbon into the atmosphere. Further damage to soil carbon stocks through poor land management would hamper efforts to limit global temperature rise this century and so avoid increased floods, droughts and other negative climate change impacts. As the climate changes, it is likely that more carbon will be lost to the atmosphere than be sequestered into the soil, resulting in a land carbon–climate feedback loop that could further accelerate climate change. Of particular concern are hotspots such as peatlands, permafrost and grasslands, which contain the highest amount of soil organic carbon.

By sustainably managing soils and rehabilitating degraded land, we can mitigate climate change and improve food security. Carbon sequestration, monitoring and maintenance in soils can also enhance climate resilience, as a healthy amount of SOC can help plants cope. Soil rehabilitation in agricultural and degraded soils can remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, SOC sequestration is a slow and reversible process. SSM practices need to be adopted over the long-term. Governments now need to support land users to implement them. RECSOIL and the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management constitute a tool to guide such a process.

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In action

Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon

Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon

21-23 March 2017, FAO headquarters

The Symposium was attended by 450 participants from 111 countries, including member states, academia, scientists, land users and practitioners working on soil science and climate change.


Plan of action

Outcome document of the Symposium

Guidelines for measuring, monitoring, verifying and reporting on SOC can be adapted locally to monitor SOC stocks and stock changes and support management decisions as per the GSOC17 recommendations.


Soil organic carbon map

A country-driven efforts

The GSOCmap allows to monitor the soil condition, identify degraded areas, set restoration targets, SOC sequestration potentials, support the greenhouse gas emission reporting and make decisions about climate change.

Communication material

World Soil Day 2017 "Caring for the planet starts from the ground" communication campaign


Related publications

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