Measuring the cost of greenhouse gases

A lack of clear data on how ecosystems deal with carbon dioxide has hindered understanding of how they are affected by land management and climate change. For a clear picture, scientists need accurate information on which ecosystems release or retain carbon and greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how much. Through detailed measurements and data analyses, EU researchers have the first answers to these pressing questions.

The knowledge has already been used to advise policy makers on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Some 70% of the EU’s land area is used for agriculture and forestry. These ecosystems are described by scientists as a “carbon sink” because they absorb CO2 emissions – good news for the environment. However, this sink effect reduces dramatically if GHGs like nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) – that come from agricultural activities – are taken into account. The GHG-Europe researchers wanted to find out to what extent these GHGs reduce the sink effect. Knowing this would help them establish a greenhouse gas budget for Europe, identifying options for reducing countries’ land-use-related GHG emissions.

The 41 project partners merged the results of national and international climate research projects to form an overall assessment of ecosystems across 25 EU countries. Measurements were also taken from over 50 field plots across all European climatic regions and systems – this data was used to assess how different land management uses affect GHG levels.