When the USSR collapsed, the communal farming systems that helped feed the union's citizens collapsed with it. Farmers abandoned 110 million acres of farmland and headed into the cities in search of work.
New research by European scientists has revealed the staggering climate benefits of that sweeping change in land use. According to the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, wild vegetation growing on former USSR farming lands has sucked up approximately 50 million tons of carbon every year since 1990.
New Scientist reports that's equivalent to 10 percent of Russia's yearly fossil fuel carbon emissions:
"Everything like this makes a difference," says Jonathan Sanderman, a soil chemist at CSIRO Land and Water in Australia. "Ten per cent is quite a bit considering most nations are only committed to 5 per cent reduction targets. So by doing absolutely nothing -- by having depressed their economy -- they've achieved quite a bit."