A new study found that offsetting emissions through carbon sinks would require 1.2 billion hectares of land, making current climate pledges not feasible or advisable. Instead, researchers suggest, governments should focus on much-needed, fundamental changes to our economic models.
A new report suggests that most countries’ climate pledges rely excessively on tree planting and land restoration.
Offsetting global emissions through the expansion of forests – which are notoriously the biggest carbon sinks in the world along with oceans – would require planting trees over equivalent to 1.2 billion hectares (about 3 billion acres), an area greater than the size of the US.
More than half of the total land area pledged for carbon removal – approximately 630 million hectares (1.5 billion acres) – involves reforestation, while restoring degraded lands and ecosystems accounts for nearly 551 million hectares (1.36 billion acres) pledged.
The Land Gap Report, carried out by more than 20 researchers from around the world and published on Tuesday by Melbourne Climate Futures, suggests that such a high demand for land for reforestation and other land-use change projects could result in the displacement of Indigenous communities and small farmers and may add pressure on ecosystems and food security.
What’s more, current climate pledges do not consider the importance of safeguarding Indigenous land and forest rights for climate change mitigation, the scientists behind the study warn. At several consecutive UN climate summits, Indigenous leaders have been unsuccessfully advocating for developed nations to provide adequate funding to support these communities as well as to recognise and incorporate these rights.
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“This study reveals that countries’ climate pledges are dangerously over-reliant on inequitable and unsustainable land-based measures to capture and store carbon,” said Kate Dooley, a researcher at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the report.
The scientists behind the report are calling on governments prioritise the steep cuts in fossil fuel emissions. The current climate pledges, they believe, “ignore scientific and ecological principles” by putting too much emphasis on tree planting as the best way to offset fossil fuel emissions or the destruction of primary forests. Instead, what we need are fundamental changes to our economic structures and models, starting with energy production.
“Clearly, countries are loading up on land pledges to avoid the hard work of steeply reducing emissions from fossil fuels, decarbonising food systems and stopping the destruction of forests and other ecosystems,” Dooley said in a statement.
With COP27 set to begin this weekend, Indigenous leaders are again calling for updates, transparency, and concrete steps to deliver the US$1.7 billion funding pledge made at last year’s conference.
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