Restoring nature is climate equivalent of stopping burning oil

amazon rainforest

One-third of emissions reductions needed for 2 degree target could be achieved with better land management.

I've been writing a lot about China's plug-in car sales and the launch of floating wind farms of late, and these things are indeed exciting. But this site is called TreeHugger for a reason. And a new study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reminds us of why this matters:

Protecting and restoring nature could deliver climate benefits equivalent to stopping burning all oil.

Specifically, the study found that planting more trees and stopping deforestation, improving agricultural land and livestock management, and protecting and restoring wetlands could collectively deliver 11.3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions reductions per year by 2030. That is, according to the paper, 37% of the emissions reductions needed to hit the 2-degree target set out in the Paris Accord. It's also the equivalent of stopping the burning of all oil everywhere. If cost constraints aren't considered, the authors suggest that emissions savings could be as high as 23.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, 30% more than previous estimates had projected.

Specifically, areas the authors suggest focusing on are restoring formerly forested land, preventing loss of existing forests, improving forestry and livestock management practices, using smarter application of chemical fertilizers and supporting agroforestry, and preventing the draining and conversion of wetlands—most prominently for palm oil cultivation.

It's encouraging to hear that such strategies—most of which would deliver massive biodiversity, health and social benefits alongside emissions reductions—can have such a significant impact on climate change. And while The Nature Conservancy is careful to not position this as an either/or proposition next to renewables and efficiency, it is a reminder that, alongside investing in electric cars and solar panels, we could massively step up our efforts to fund the protection and restoration of natural systems across the world.

From IKEA's commitments to sustainable forestry to large-scale regretting of deforested hillsides, and from citizens funding mangrove restoration to corporations backing regenerative farming, we already have examples of the work that needs to be done.

Now we just need to step up the pace.

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