Skip to main content

Our most powerful, high-tech climate solution? Our forests


Wild bluebells, which bloom around mid-April, turning the forest completely blue, form a carpet in the Hallerbos, also known as the 'Blue Forest', near the Belgian city of Halle, Belgium April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC19FFD33A70
Forests are the lungs of the Earth.
Image: REUTERS/Yves Herman
oes not mince words about the state of our planet: we must act now to achieve global change at a scale that has “no documented historical precedent” in order to avoid the climate catastrophe that would result from a 2 degree C rise in average global temperature. Climate change already disproportionately affects the world’s most vulnerable people including poor rural communities that depend on the land for their livelihoods and coastal communities throughout the tropics. Indeed, we have already seen the stark asymmetry of suffering resulting from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires and more.
So far, advocates and politicians have tended to focus on reducing fossil fuel consumption through technology and/or policy, such as a steep carbon tax, as climate solutions. These proposals are, of course, essential to reducing manmade carbon emissions—71 percent of which are generated by just 100 fossil fuel companies. For this reason, fossil-fuel–related emissions reductions rightly figure heavily in the national climate commitments of the 181 nations that signed the global Paris Agreement.
Yet the international focus on fossil fuels has overshadowed the most powerful and cost-efficient carbon-capture technology the world has yet seen: forests. Recent scientific research confirms that forests and other “natural climate solutions” are absolutely essential in mitigating climate change, thanks to their carbon sequestering and storage capabilities. In fact, natural climate solutions can help us achieve 37 percent of our climate target, even though they currently receive only 2.5 percent of public climate financing.
Forests’ power to store carbon dioxide through the simple process of tree growth is staggering: one tree can store an average of about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in one yearRecent research shows intact forests are capable of storing the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions of entire countries such as Peru and Colombia.
For this reason, policy makers and business leaders must create and enforce ambitious policies and incentives to prevent deforestation, foster reforestation of degraded land, and support the sustainable management of standing forests in the fight against climate change. Protecting the world’s forests ensures they can continue to provide essential functions aside from climate stability, including producing oxygen, filtering water and supporting biodiversity. Not only do all the world’s people depend on forests to provide clean air, clean water, oxygen, and medicines, but 1.6 billion people rely on them directly for their livelihoods.
Unfortunately, we are fighting a crisis of deforestation, much of it driven by conversion to agricultural lands to produce a handful of resource-intensive commodities, despite zero-deforestation commitments from companies and governments. With increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, insufficient emissions reductions and continued high rates of deforestation, urgent action is needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Now is the time to increase investment in and attention to forest protection and restoration. In doing so, we will also address a number of other pressing global issues. For example, increasing tree cover can help address the problem of food security in many areas. Trees can enhance farm productivity and provide farmers with another source of revenue through the sale of fruits, nuts or timber—all while storing carbon dioxide. It is estimated that increased investment in the multi-strata agroforestry area could help sequester up to 9.28 gigatons of carbon dioxide, while saving a net $709.8 billion by 2050. In production landscapes where large-scale tree cover increases are difficult, agroforestry serves as an attractive compromise.
And in less-developed, rural areas—especially in the tropics—community-based sustainable forest management programs can provide pathways out of poverty. In the Petén region of Guatemala, for instance, community-managed forests have boasted a near-zero deforestation rate over the past 14 years, as compared to 12 percent in nearby protected areas and buffer zones. These communities have built low-impact, sustainable forest-based businesses that have bolstered the economy of the region enough to fund the creation of local schools and health services. Their success is especially poignant in a region otherwise besieged by deforestation; outside the community-managed zones, deforestation rates increase by 20x.
Finally, landscape restoration promises an unparalleled return on investment, in terms of ecosystem services and carbon sequestered and stored. Landscape restoration could potentially sequester up to 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide every year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Reforestation projects can also intersect neatly and positively with human systems—restored forests provide a renewed resource base and new economic opportunities for communities.
There is good work being done on this front already. The Bonn Challenge, issued by world leaders with the goal of reforestation and restoration of 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2020, has been adopted by 56 countries. Many governments and groups pledged to halve global deforestation by 2020 through the New York Declaration on Forests. And in an exemplary display of public-private sector cooperation, the Cocoa and Forests Initiative in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana aims to end deforestation from cocoa cultivation.
With world leaders gathering in December for their yearly U.N. climate talks, the time is ripe for concrete action on forests and natural climate solutions. World leaders now have the opportunity to make big gains on climate by dramatically ramping up their investment in proven, natural solutions. More trees in the ground. More reforestation projects. More sustainable forestry. More avoided deforestation through sustainable agriculture and certified crops.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

7 eating habits that we know are good for us:

1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits – Some countries are very specific about the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that we should consume daily, for example Greece says six, Costa Rica and Iceland say five. Canada even specifies the colors of vegetables to consume (one dark green and one orange vegetable a day). Serving sizes can vary by country; however, all guidelines recommend eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits on a daily basis.

2. Watch your intake of fats– Said in different ways, most guidelines make mention of reducing solid, saturated fats and give recommendations for replacing animal fats with vegetable oils. In Greece, olive oil is recommended, in Viet Nam it is sesame or peanut oil – demonstrating the importance of availability and cultural preference in each country’s guidelines.3. Cut back on foods and beverages high in sugar – It is generally agreed upon that processed sugar is harmful to our health. The guidelines in every country recommend to maint…

Humans are a massive minority on Earth. Why don't we act like it?

Humans are a massive minority on Earth. Why don't we act like it?

Most of us, including scientists, are blind to the full scope of the living world. This was illustrated by an informal survey which asked biologists and ecologists from elite universities two questions. In terms of mass, is the living world mostly composed of animals, plants or bacteria? And is there more global biomass on land or in the oceans? The majority of them answered both questions incorrectly.In an age of unparalleled access to information, this is a glaring gap in our knowledge. We are now equipped to close it. I joined colleagues from the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the California Institute of Technology to estimate the biomass of all kingdoms of life on Earth. The results were published in the journal of the American National Academy of Sciences, and were widely (and more digestibly) covered by the popular press.It required years of work, collecting and integrating information from hundreds of previ…

Chart of the day: These countries create most of the world’s CO2 emissions

With CO2 levels on the rise, being able to track global emissions is crucial. Image: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau Just two countries, China and the US, are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions. With CO2 levels still on the rise, being able to track the global emissions hotspots is becoming more important than ever. Before the industrial revolution, levels of atmospheric CO2 were around 280 parts per million (ppm). By 2013, that level had breached the 400ppm mark for the first time. On 3 June 2019 it stood at 414.40ppm. Fifteen countries are responsible for more than two thirds of global CO2 emissions. Image: Visual Capitalist There are huge disparities between the world’s top 15 CO2 emissions-generating countries. China creates almost double the emissions of second-placed US, which is in turn responsible for more than twice the level of third-placed India.