Planting trees is key to beating climate change

A new study has found that better stewardship of the land could deliver over a third of greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Trees have the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions.

The study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, found that natural climate solutions could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes per year by 2030 – equivalent to stopping the burning of oil – and offering over a third of the emissions reductions needed to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Without cost constraints, natural climate solutions could deliver emissions reductions of 23.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, 30 per cent 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 per cent 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, as well as in clean energy and clean transport.”

According to the study, trees are the biggest natural solution. Reforestation, avoiding forest loss and better forestry practices – all of which will increase the number and size of trees – could cost-effectively remove 7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2030, equivalent to taking 1.5 billion gasoline-burning cars off the roads. The top five countries where forests could reduce emissions the most are Brazil, Indonesia, China, Russia and India.

The study also found that changing the way we farm could deliver 22 per cent of emissions reductions. Smarter application of chemical fertilizers in particular could reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

But while natural climate solutions have major potential in the battle against climate change, technical solutions like renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean transport together receive about 30 times the investment.

“Just 38 out of 160 countries set specific targets for natural climate solutions at the Paris climate talks, amounting to 2 gigatonnes of emissions reductions,” said Justin Adams, global lands managing director with The Nature Conservancy.

“The study shows us that those responsible for the lands – governments, the forestry companies and farms, the fishermen and property developers – are just as important to achieving this as the solar, wind and electric car businesses.”


Image credit: Tim Gorman via Flickr

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