Land rights, forests, food systems central to limiting global warming

A climate advocacy group has published a report proposing that the world’s nations put more effort into land sector measures to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of climate advocates released detailed findings today, saying that significant climate change mitigation can be achieved via a heavy emphasis on the land sector, and without reliance on costly or largely untested technologies such as bioenergy, carbon capture-and-storage and geoengineering.

The report, called Missing Pathways to 1.5 degrees C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action, was released by the Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA).

The 53-page document recommends a combination of land-based strategies: secure land rights for indigenous peoples, restore forest ecosystems, and transform agriculture and dietary habits.

Such an approach, CLARA says, would naturally sequester carbon and prevent greenhouse gas emissions as a significant contribution to achieving the Paris Agreement goal of holding global warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase by 2100. Earth has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius since 1900.

The CLARA study comes in response to the United Nations special report and Summary for Policymakers, released one week ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and authored by 91 scientists from 40 countries.

The IPCC report’s findings stunned the world – though also fell on deaf ears – by asserting that some of the most calamitous impacts of rapidly rising carbon emissions and climate change could come as soon as 2040 – generations earlier than previously anticipated.

The IPCC called on global leaders to transform the global economy and rapidly reduce emissions at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent” in order to diminish extreme weather events including escalating drought, wildfires, sea-level rise and coral-reef die off, all of which imperil food systems and billions of people.

“Our study is not meant to either contradict or complement the IPCC report,” said Doreen Stabinsky, a co-author of Missing Pathways, in a Mongabay interview. “The IPCC looks very generally at pathways to 1.5 degrees C.

We dive into the literature to find what would be useful, specific contributions from the land sector to stay within a 1.5-degree pathway.”

CLARA does not address the energy or transportation sectors, she said, huge contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It is assumed that dramatic transformation must come there as well to reduce the rate of warming sooner rather than later.

The EU must abandon its faith in unproven technological solutions and put restoring and protecting forests at the center of its climate strategy.

Kelsey Perlman, climate campaigner, Fern

Stabinsky, a professor of global environmental politics at Maine’s College of the Atlantic, reviewed early drafts of the UN’s Summary to Policymakers, which included a heightened role for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as potential significant contributors to climate mitigation – technologies that are controversial, costly and mostly untested.

The final IPCC report, however, downplayed BECCS, which Stabinsky said was the result of intense internal debate among IPCC scientists.

The key role of forests

Some global progress is being made in carbon reductions. Despite a current White House hostile to climate-change policy, the United States has peaked its carbon emissions, at least for now, as has neighboring Canada and much of the EU and Russia. 

Twenty-seven major cities have peaked their emissions too, while investments in solar and wind energy continue to grow as generation prices drop and come into parity with fossil fuels.

But none of this incremental progress has slowed the rate of climate change. Overall global emissions hit a record high in 2017, while average temperatures have continued to climb, with every month for the past thirty years at or above 20th century averages – that’s since February 1985. The dire, new IPCC report underlines the urgent need for immediate action.

However, CLARA doesn’t call for the silver bullet of untried technologies, but urges that we allow, and assist, nature in doing a fair share of the heavy lifting – keeping carbon in the ground. And the best method of carbon capture is via live trees in an intact forest ecosystem, says the report.

“The land sector and forests absolutely have an important role to play; this is something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Steve Schwartzman, a senior director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Mongabay. “Natural climate solutions deserve more attention and a clearer focus.”

The CLARA report offers alternatives to high tech solutions. It is “a pragmatic blueprint for tackling the climate crisis while respecting human rights and protecting biodiversity,” wrote Kelsey Perlman in a statement from FERN, the European Union-based forest-protection group. “The EU must abandon its faith in unproven technological solutions and put restoring and protecting forests at the center of its climate strategy.”

The problem with BECCS

Some CO2 reduction models, possibly encouraged by governments or energy corporations, strongly emphasize a pathway to the 1.5-degree Celsius goal that would include a major shift to burning biomass instead of coal for energy generation.

Other high tech approaches would require enormous filters to pull carbon out of the air, or geoengineering techniques employing, for example, atmospheric injections of tiny particles to deflect the sun’s radiation before it has a chance to warm the earth.

CLARA advocates say these theoretical approaches are misleading at best, offering false hope, and reckless at worst.

BECCS technological fixes, they note, might give nations an excuse not to actively cut emissions, and may reduce public pressure on global leaders to take vitally needed steps, such as investing heavily in wind and solar energy and reducing deforestation.

They point out that viable working examples of carbon capture-and-storage and geoengineering do not currently exist. While burning biomass, such as wood pellets made from farmed trees and woody residue – a practice widely used in the UK and the EU – actually releases more carbon emissions per kilowatt hour than burning coal.

Recent research also indicates that burning biomass is erroneously accounted for as carbon neutral because it comes from renewable resources.

“The CLARA report shows that protecting forests and allowing them to grow can render unnecessary such untested and potentially dangerous technologies as BECCS that artificially remove CO2 from the air,” Christoph Thies of Greenspeace Germany said in a statement.

Kelly Levin, a senior associate with World Resources Institute’s climate program, took a slightly modified position. She agree that environmentalists are right to be wary of BECCS in the near term, but added, that it is important to remain open to climate-mitigation technology and innovation that may become viable and reasonably safe in coming decades.

“Not any one of these approaches is going to generate the scale of carbon reductions that are necessary to reach the Paris Agreement goals,” she said. “Climate researchers are making a clear call for a portfolio of approaches. The reason we need to get started now on innovative solutions is so that we have those options available in the future.”

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com. Read the full story.

 

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