Key to understanding the discussion around Natural Climate Solutions is understanding the terms commonly-used in scientific studies, policy briefs and other literature. This glossary is compiled from a variety of sources, including government agencies and non-profit organizations, to provide plain-English definitions of these terms. Links to the original sources are provided after each definition. In some cases, terms were edited for clarity.

Climate-Smart Agriculture

Climate-Smart Agriculture refers to agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces/removes greenhouse gasses where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals. (Global N4C)

Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health. It can include no-till, cover crops, agroforestry, and soil amendments such as compost – all of which store more carbon in agricultural lands. (Global N4C)

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture seeks to sustain farmers, resources and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. (SARE)

Cover Crops

Cover Crops are plants used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits. (SARE) Cover crops extend the growing season and increase the total amount of photosynthesis that takes carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon added to  the soil every year. (USN4C)

Cropland Nutrient Management

Cropland Nutrient Management is a practice that ensures the amount of nitrogen applied to fields by synthetic fertilizers does not exceed the amount the plants can absorb. This prevents excess nitrogen from being released to the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon, or released into waterways as nutrient pollution, which causes algal blooms that lead to dead zones. (N4C)

Enhanced Root Crops

Enhanced Root Crops are crop varieties, including long-rooted perennial grasses, that have deeper, larger, and/or more recalcitrant roots that result in greater storage of carbon in soils and/or in the root tissues themselves. (WRI)

No-Till Agriculture

No-Till Agriculture is an agricultural practice where a farmer uses a no-till planter to create a narrow furrow just large enough for seed to be placed. (NRCS)  Tillage increases microbial decomposition of agricultural residues, and no-till leaves more of this residue undecomposed, thereby increasing soil carbon in the top layer of soil. (USN4C)

Soil Health

Soil Health, also referred to as soil quality, is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. (NRCS)

Agrivoltaics, or Dual-Use Solar

Agrivoltaics, or Dual-Use Solar is the combination of agricultural production and photovoltaic solar panels on the same land area. These systems elevate ground-mounted solar arrays so that people, equipment and animals can traverse underneath the arrays. A variety of crops have been grown under raised solar panels, including kale, peppers, swiss chard, broccoli, celery, winter wheat, clover, and potatoes. (AFT)


Biochar is a form of charcoal derived from crop residues and forest bi-products like stems, husks and other waste plant materials, which are heated in a low-oxygen environment known as pyrolysis. This locks much of the plant’s carbon into charcoal, which doesn’t easily decompose, preventing most of the trapped carbon from decaying for hundreds or thousands of years. When added back to croplands, some types of biochar can also improve soil health. (N4C)