Forests have long been celebrated as the natural heroes in the fight against the climate crisis. They are so good at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, a consortium of environmental groups are calling on the world to plant one trillion trees over the next decade.
But while we are looking up at the treetops for climate solutions, some campaigners are urging the world to look down, where another answer lies — right under our feet. Forests, peatlands, deserts and tundra can all absorb and hold stocks of carbon-dioxide (CO2). Of all the carbon held in land-based ecosystems, around 34% can be found in grasslands, data from the World Resources Institute show. That’s not much less than the 39% held in forests.
“Whether you look at the Serengeti, the Cerrado in Brazil, whether you look at what’s left of the prairies in North America or the steppes of Mongolia — every single one of our major, iconic grassland habitats is under threat at the moment,” Ian Dunn, chief executive of the British conservation organization Plantlife, told CNN. There’s also plenty of it in the United Kingdom, which will host world leaders and climate negotiators in just over a week at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Among several items on the agenda is how to protect forests and plant more trees to help slash global emissions.
But Plantlife, among other groups, is campaigning for grasslands to be protected at an international level and part of any deal that emerges in Glasgow. While leaders meet in the Scottish city, Plantlife is working to restore more than 100,000 hectares of meadows, including one on the other side of the United Kingdom, in the southern English county of Kent. The Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve looks just like your typical patch of English countryside, with its soft rolling hills and grazing cattle. The grass here looks ordinary, browned in patches from the autumn weather. But come spring, the rare orchids, bellflowers and rock roses will bloom in a celebration of this grassland’s biodiversity.