Sun, Nov 26, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Sustainable land use is the key to climate change mitigation

By Justin Adams

In response to climate change, land is key: Agriculture, forestry and other land uses account for about a quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions, but adopting sustainable land management strategies could provide more than one-third of the near-term emission reductions needed to keep global warming well below the target of 2°C above pre-industrial levels set by the Paris climate agreement.

Conservation organizations like mine have long been working to balance the interaction between people and nature, but only recently have we fully grasped just how important land-use management is to addressing climate change.

With the development of remote sensing, artificial intelligence and biogeochemical modeling, we can better forecast outcomes, and develop strategies to manage and minimize adverse consequences.

Some of the most promising ways to mitigate climate change are what we call “natural climate solutions”: the conservation, restoration and improved management of land to increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse-gas emissions in landscapes worldwide.

The full potential of these solutions is detailed in a new study produced by my organization, the US Nature Conservancy, and 15 other leading institutions.

Among the most important natural climate solutions is protecting “frontier forests” — pristine woodlands that serve as natural carbon sinks. Intact tropical and northern forests, as well as savannas and coastal ecosystems, store huge amounts of carbon accumulated over centuries. When these areas are disturbed, carbon is released.

Preservation of frontier habitats also helps regulate water flows, reduces the risk of flooding and maintains biodiversity.

Reforestation is another important natural solution. Globally, an estimated 2 billion hectares of land has been deforested or degraded. Because trees are the best carbon capture-and-storage technology the world has, reversing these numbers would bring a significant reduction in global carbon levels.

We estimate that the world could capture 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually — equivalent to taking more than 600 million cars off the roads — simply by planting more trees.

A third category of natural solution is agricultural reform. From field to fork, the food sector is a major contributor to climate change through direct and indirect emissions, and by its often-negative effects on soil health and deforestation.

Recognizing these risks, 23 multinational corporations — including Nestle, McDonald’s, Tesco and Unilever — recently signed a commitment to halt deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna.

The region, which covers a quarter of the country, has come under growing pressure from production of beef, soy and other commodities, together with the associated infrastructure.

As the Cerrado pledge demonstrates, when governments and businesses come together to address land-use challenges, the impact is potent. Natural climate solutions have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 11.3 billion tonnes a year — equal to a complete halt in burning fossil fuels, our study showed.

One recent study calculated that if Brazil reached zero deforestation by 2030, it would add 0.6 percent of GDP, or about US$15 billion, to its economy.

Communities also reap secondary benefits — such as rural regeneration, improved food and water security, and coastal resilience — when natural climate solutions are implemented.

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