Although planting trees has become an imperative to decarbonize and a key goal of the landmark Paris Agreement and the recent COP26 climate conference, it no longer appears to be a sufficient solution to address the crisis, a new study has discovered.
The journal Nature Climate Change published a research paper that concluded that protecting ecosystems should be on top of climate action, not tree planting.
The study was conducted by a group of scientists from the “The Nature Conservancy” under the title “Protecting, Managing and Restoring Lands to Mitigating Climate Change”.
The World Environmental Organization is the largest organization in the world working to protect land and water, and was founded in 1951, and is headquartered in the US state of Virginia.
The organization has more than one million members globally and has contributed to the protection of more than 119 billion acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide.
The new study highlights the need for sharp reductions in emissions, along with increased removal of carbon from the atmosphere, to avoid the effects of climate change.
The study considers that the most important measure is to reduce fossil fuel emissions, take advantage of natural climate solutions to achieve this, in addition to capturing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by protecting existing ecosystems, improving the management of agricultural land and pastures, and restoring natural ecosystems.
At the same time, the study emphasized that planting trees will help achieve this, but the world needs to protect the existing ecosystems rather than destroy them.
Hierarchy Of Climate Solutions
The biodiversity hierarchy, formally formed in 2012, is an inspiration for the hierarchy of nature-based climate solutions.
The study authors noted that the biodiversity hierarchy focused on reducing the negative impacts of economic development projects on biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as promoting global biodiversity conservation.
The study showed 3 steps to this sequence: avoiding negative impacts on biodiversity, reducing inevitable effects, and addressing negative impacts by restoring damaged places and species.
Climate change in 2021.. Tangible repercussions and insufficient pledges
More recently, a group of organizations known as the Science Based Targets Network developed a hierarchy, to help the public and private sectors advance sustainability goals.
The nature-based climate solutions hierarchy framework is aligned with the biodiversity hierarchy.
The hierarchy of climate solutions focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or increasing carbon sequestration without negatively impacting biodiversity and human well-being.
The Necessity of Hierarchy
The study suggested using the hierarchy of nature-based climate change solutions, as a framework for decision-makers in the public and private sectors, and this refers to the consideration of climate solutions related to protection, management improvement and then land restoration.
She explained that scientists and conservationists often prioritize restoring land over better management or protection.
She gave an example when the Canadian government announced an investment in climate solutions worth C$3.8 billion ($3 billion) over the next 10 years, allocating 81% to restoration (ie planting 2 billion trees), but only 3% to improving land management and 16 % for protection.
The study revealed that this contrasts with recent research that protection and improved management offer more effective climate mitigation options in Canada.
She explained that countries that put the land sector in their Nationally Determined Contribution to the historic Paris Agreement often include protection, afforestation, and forest restoration without improving ecosystem management.
As for the private sector, it showed similar patterns, there are about 93 declared pledges from companies that provided details about climate solutions measures, showing about 78% of companies supporting land restoration, while the percentage interested in protection reached 41%, and only 43% indicated improving the management of land lands.
In contrast, the study also found that the majority of land sector emissions from a company’s supply chains come from land conversion and management, and therefore reducing these activities is critical to reducing the climate impacts of supply chains.
More than 400 companies have also promised to raise deforestation in their supply chains, but they haven’t made much progress, instead increasing companies’ commitments to plant trees, according to the study.
Climate Solutions Standards
The study revealed 4 interrelated criteria that influence the overall hierarchy of nature-based climate solutions: magnitude of potential reduction potential, cost-effectiveness, time horizon, and co-benefits.
She pointed to some other additional factors such as: geography, technical constraints, availability of ecosystems for protection and/or management, as well as policies and regulations that either stimulate or discourage the adoption of climate solutions.
In addition, the study notes that the requirements of local communities will have an impact on the continuity of nature-based climate solutions activities.
The study emphasized that protection should be a top priority, and this would mitigate the effects of climate change in the short term.
She noted that disruption to ecosystems by cutting down forests and plowing weeds to grow crops could lead to rapid carbon loss, and recovery could take decades and centuries, and prioritized protecting unrecoverable carbon stores.
The study warned that failure to protect local ecosystems could undermine the effectiveness of other climate solutions.
Improving management occupies the second place because of its many benefits related to improving soil and increasing crop yields. In the end, the study believes that restoration will reduce the climate change crisis, but it is not as effective as protection and improved management.