The soil carbon (C) stock, comprising soil organic C (SOC) and soil inorganic C (SIC) and being the largest reservoir of the terrestrial biosphere, is a critical part of the global C cycle. Soil has been a source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the dawn of settled agriculture about 10 millenia ago. Soils of agricultural ecosystems are depleted of their SOC stocks and the magnitude of depletion is greater in those prone to accelerated erosion by water and wind and other degradation processes. Adoption of judicious land use and science-based management practices can lead to re-carbonization of depleted soils and make them a sink for atmospheric C. Soils in humid climates have potential to increase storage of SOC and those in arid and semiarid climates have potential to store both SOC and SIC. Payments to land managers for sequestration of C in soil, based on credible measurement of changes in soil C stocks at farm or landscape levels, are also important for promoting adoption of recommended land use and management practices. In conjunction with a rapid and aggressive reduction in GHG emissions across all sectors of the economy, sequestration of C in soil (and vegetation) can be an important negative emissions method for limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2°C This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of soils in delivering Nature's Contributions to People'.