The Paris Climate Agreement embodies a commitment to hold the increase in the global average temperature to less than 2 Celsius degrees above preindustrial levels. Most strategies to achieve this goal involve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as burning fossil fuels as well as various land use activities. But there are also so-called Natural Climate Solutions, which relate to the storage of carbon and reduction in carbon emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands.
Plants and soils across the planet currently absorb abut 20% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Some of this is offset by emissions caused by our land use activities such as forestry and agriculture.
According to a study published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, a concerted effort at planting trees, restoring peatlands, and better land management could provide more than 1/3 of the greenhouse gas mitigation needed over the next decade to meet the Paris climate goals.
These activities are known as “natural climate solutions” and could prevent as much as 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide from ending up in the atmosphere each year. (According to the Nature Conservancy, this is equivalent to nations stopping burning oil completely).
Is this practical? Nations would need to engage in reforestation efforts, peatland and coastal wetland restoration, conversion of former agricultural land to forests, and the diligent protection of existing forests and wetlands from future development. Reassuringly, the projections were based on land use that continues to meet human food needs while making these changes.
Such regreening would also offer water filtration, flood buffering, soil health and biodiversity benefits. But are any nations seriously considering this strategy? It is hard to say.
Photo, posted June 2, 2012, courtesy of Nicholas Tonelli via Flickr.