The land sector is key in reaching a climate neutral Europe

The land sector plays a crucial role in climate change mitigation. It can either release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or act as a carbon-storing sink. A new paper from the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) has now assessed the sector’s importance in reaching a climate-neutral Europe.

Sustainable farming in action. Image credit: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank via Flickr

In 2014, EU leaders agreed that all sectors should contribute to the European 2030 emission reduction target, including the land use sector. In 2018, this agreement was implemented by the Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) in the 2030 EU climate and energy framework.

The paper “Making sense of the LULUCF Regulation: Much ado about nothing?” now assesses the importance and highlights the weaknesses and strengths of the LULUCF Regulation in the context of current EU climate and sustainability policies.

The three authors, including Maria Vincenza Chiriacò and Lucia Perugini, researchers at the CMCC, explain in a statement that the land sector plays a crucial role in climate change mitigation due to a peculiarity: the sector can either release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, acting as a source of emissions or, conversely, store carbon and therefore acting as a sink.

To contribute or to compensate

With its capacity to absorb CO2, the land sector can therefore compensate for part of these unavoidable emissions, thus becoming an important player in the EU’s mitigation targets of reducing emissions by 40% before 2030.

“Given the potential for climate change mitigation embedded in the good management of the LULUCF sector, and underlined in the latest IPCC Special Report on “Climate change and land”, it is extremely important that emissions and removals of the land sector are accounted for, to incentivize virtuous forest and agricultural management in the EU,” says Perugini in the statement.

She adds: “Thanks to this Regulation, the sector can finally contribute to the EU’s mitigation targets. This was also necessary to align the EU with the Paris Agreement requirement for economy-wide mitigation targets. Although the new Regulation has much improved the accounting rules for the LULUCF, it is still constrained within certain limits. We can consider the LULUCF regulation as a first step towards its full recognition.”

The objective of zero net emissions

The authors look forward to a further review of the 2030 EU climate framework, as envisioned by the EU Green Deal, as an opportunity to better tap into the sector’s sizeable mitigation potential, according to the statement.

The roadmap designed by the EU Commission – with the final objective of having zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 – includes the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Achieving these climate goals will require a deep cut in emissions in all sectors.

“The subject matter of the LULUCF Regulation closely intersects with that of other EU law and policy instruments dealing with agriculture and forestry, most saliently the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The EU’s ambitious targets ask for a strong coordination and integration among the various sustainability and climate policies linked to the land sector, where all debits and credits generated are accounted for, with no limitations.

“Only in this way will we have full accountability of emissions and removals from the agriculture and forestry sectors, which will be crucial to monitor progress and reward those that engage in virtuous behaviour, and penalize those who do not,” concludes Perugini.

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