Assessing Carbon Sequestration and Storage in Dry Grassland Ecosystems

Project Context and Opportunity

Dry grasslands are among the most vulnerable ecosystems due to their widespread conversion to cropland. This project will encourage dry grasslands restoration by assessing their carbon storage and sequestration capacity, demonstrating their contribution to climate change mitigation and land degradation and desertification prevention. In addition, the project will improve understanding of the related economic benefits that could be realised via carbon trading schemes.

In Ukraine, the arable land accounts for 57% of the country’s total area, one of the highest percentages in the world. Extensive agriculture leads to land degradation and desertification, and these processes have become more rapid due to climate change. In addition, climate change has affected the suitability of different areas of Ukraine for extensive agriculture, manifest by the expansion of the steppe and forest-steppe zones to the northwest. Thus, on the one hand, the climate in Ukraine is becoming drier, making agriculture productivity less reliable and more dependent on other water resources; on the other hand, agricultural land has a very low capacity to deliver climate change mitigation and adaptation objectives. Against this backdrop, the expansion of cropland and loss of natural grasslands, with their important role in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change, is an alarming trend.

Steppe grasslands are the particular focus of our project. The steppe bioclimatic zone covers about half of Ukraine, but currently untouched steppe landscapes cover less than 3% of the country.  Steppes are critically endangered due to ploughing and conversion to cropland. Their conservation, restoration and management involving grazing have benefits in terms of sustainable development, economic activities that are more resilient to the effects of climate change than cropland agriculture, and climate change mitigation. The conservation and especially restoration of steppes are important for meeting climate change mitigation targets, in particular Ukraine’s commitment to reduce the area of cropland to 37-41% by 2025.

Project aim

By demonstrating the carbon benefits of natural and restored steppe ecosystems, the project aims to improve the political framework and market mechanisms to encourage a large-scale restoration of dry grasslands.

Project impact

Based on the applied research to assess carbon sequestration and storage by steppes of different land use types, the project hopes to:

  • Improve the central government agencies’ understanding of the role of steppe ecosystems as a sink of carbon and the value of the carbon sequestered.
  • Change regional governments’ and local communities’ attitude to steppes by demonstrating economic values of natural areas, including protected ones. We will look at the economic potential of steppe ecosystems as revenue-earning entities able to maintain economic activities (pasturing, haymaking, nature-based tourism) with good benefit-cost ratio and to make an important contribution to local economies.
  • Increase lobbying capacities and evidence base for conservationists and scientists, making the environmental and scientific communities more effective and better coordinated in their efforts to protect and restore dry grasslands.

Project Partners

Rewilding Ukraine
Friedrich Falz-Fein Askania-Nova Biosphere Reserve
M.M. Gryshko National Botanic Garden