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.
Yet, despite the data supporting better land-use decisionmaking, something is not adding up. Last year, the world witnessed a dramatic 51 percent increase in forest loss, equivalent to an area about the size of New Zealand. We need to buck this trend now and help the world realize that land-use planning is not simply a conservation story.
Some countries are moving in the right direction. The Indian government, for example, has set aside US$6 billion for states to invest in forest restoration. In Indonesia, the government has created a dedicated agency to protect and restore peatlands, bogs and swamp-like ecosystems that have immense carbon dioxide storage capabilities.
However, these are the exceptions. Of the 160 countries that committed to implementing the Paris climate agreement, only 36 have specified land-use management in their emissions-reduction strategies.
Overcoming inertia will not be easy. Forests, farms and coasts vary in size, type and accessibility. Moreover, the lives of hundreds of millions of people are tied to these ecosystems and projects that restore forest cover or improve soil health require focused planning, a massive undertaking for many governments.
One way to get things moving, especially in the agricultural sector, would be to remove or redirect subsidies that encourage excessive consumption of fertilizers, water or energy in food production.
As Indian government officials told their peers during a WTO meeting earlier this year, meaningful agricultural reforms can begin only when rich countries reduce the “disproportionately large” subsidies they give their own farmers.
Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship can also help power change. New processes and technologies in landscape planning, soil analysis, irrigation and even alternative proteins, such as plant-based meats, are making agriculture and land use more sustainable.
Similarly, changes in the construction industry, which is turning to more efficiently produced products like cross-laminated timber, can help reduce carbon pollution.
Finally, financing options for natural climate solutions must be dramatically increased. While payments to conserve forests are starting to flow under the UN’s REDD+ program and the Green Climate Fund has committed US$500 million for forest protection payments, total public investment in sustainable land use remains inadequate.
According to the Climate Policy Initiative, public financing for agriculture, forestry and land-use mitigation attracted only US$3 billion in 2014, compared to US$49 billion for renewable energy generation and US$26 billion for energy efficiency.
At the UN Climate Change Conference that concluded in Bonn, Germany, this month, global leaders reaffirmed that the world cannot respond adequately to rising temperatures if governments continue ignoring how forests, farms and coasts are managed.
Now that there is a firm consensus, governments must act on it.
Justin Adams is global managing director for lands at US NGO the Nature Conservancy.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more
All lives eventually come to an end. Over the years, my friendship with former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had its ups and downs. Lee’s passing was a heavy blow and has left me deeply saddened. We experienced a lot together and the memories have come flooding back. Lee was born several months earlier than me. During World War II, he was studying at Kyoto Imperial University, but halfway through his studies, he was forced to change his name and enter military service. I was studying at Tokyo Imperial University, but went into hiding to avoid military service, and I was later