New Study Finds Nature is Vital to Beating Climate Change
October 15, 2017 | The Nature Conservancy
Nature could cost-effectively deliver over a third of greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. This is equivalent to a complete stop to the burning of oil worldwide.
Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought, according to the most comprehensive assessment to date of how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced and stored in forests, farmland, grasslands and wetlands using natural climate solutions.
The peer-reviewed study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, and published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expanded and refined the scope of land-based climate solutions previously assessed by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The findings are expected to bolster efforts to ensure that large-scale protection, restoration, and improved land management practices needed to stabilize climate change are achieved while meeting the demand for food and fiber from global lands.
Accounting for cost constraints, the researchers calculated that natural climate solutions could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes per year by 2030—equivalent to halting the burning of oil, and offering 37% of the emissions reductions needed to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. Without cost constraints, natural climate solutions could deliver emissions reductions of 23.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, close to a third (30%) more than previous estimates.
“Today our impacts on the land cause a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “The way we manage the lands in the future could deliver 37% of the solution to climate change. That is huge potential, so if we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature.
The Biggest Natural Climate Solution: More Trees
According to FAO, 3.9 billion hectares or 30.6% of total land area is forest. The researchers found that trees have the greatest potential to cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions. This is because they absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, removing it from the atmosphere. The results of the study indicate that the three largest options for increasing the number and size of trees (reforestation, avoiding forest loss, and better forestry practices) could cost-effectively remove 7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2030, equivalent to taking 1.5 billion gasoline-burning cars off the roads.
Restoring forests on formerly forested lands, and avoiding further loss of global forests, are the two largest opportunities. Success depends in large part on better forestry and agricultural practices, particularly those that reduce the amount of land used by livestock. Reducing the footprint of livestock would release vast areas across the globe for trees and can be achieved while safeguarding food security. Meanwhile, improved forestry practices across expanded and existing working forests can produce more wood fiber while storing more carbon, maintain biodiversity, and help clean our air and water.
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