Better Land Use Can Achieve 30% of Carbon Cuts by 2030
By Tim Radford
As nations plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, an international team of scientists has calculated just how much the natural and farmed world could contribute to future stability by absorbing ever more carbon dioxide.
The answer is: up to 30 percent more than anyone had first thought. Natural climate solutions—a way of saving protected forests, conserved marshlands and carefully managed farmland and pasture—could deliver 37 percent of the carbon mitigation needed by 2030.
And if governments, farmers, river authorities, land managers and foresters made the best choices, such steps would mean that the world had a 66 percent chance of containing global warming to below the 2°C target agreed by 197 nations in Paris in 2015.
There are problems. The same natural machinery that could convert atmospheric carbon into foliage, timber and roots must also provide food and shelter for the expected 9 billion humans and the millions of animal species with whom humans share the planet.
But researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that even after accounting for food security, the delivery of fabrics for clothing and shelter, and the protection of biodiversity, their natural climate solutions could account for 23.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year, almost a third more than previous calculations.
As usual with intricate, headache-inducing calculations that involve the global carbon budget, the researchers had to think about the economic costs of such steps and factor in the most cost-effective solutions.
According to the authors, this means that with cost-effective constraints, their natural climate solutions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11.3 billion metric tons a year by 2030. This would be equivalent to burning no oil. If they didn't worry too much about the costs, this figure could reach 23.8 billion tons a year by the same date.
For comparison, the UN Emissions Gap report says current pledges make 2030 emissions likely to reach 11 to 13.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level needed to stay on the least-cost path to meeting the higher (2oC) Paris target.
"The way we manage the lands in the future could deliver 37 percent of the solution to climate change. That is huge potential, so if we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature, as well as in clean energy and clean transport.
"We are going to have to increase food and timber production to meet the demands of a growing population, but we know we must do so in a way that addresses climate change."
The study was based on analysis of 20 already-published plans for conservation, restoration and land management. It is not the first such optimistic study: researchers have lately argued that the 2°C target set in Paris is possible, if humans start reducing greenhouse gas emissions towards zero, and do so within 40 years.
But those calculations, too, assumed careful management of the land. The next uncertainty is embedded in the response of the natural world to ever-higher ratios of atmospheric carbon. Inevitably, such solutions begin with the world's forests.
Overall, these are the planet's greatest carbon storage facility, but there is evidence that because of bad management and forest clearance the tropical forests may not be the safest of carbon banks.
Around 30 percent of the total land area is counted as forest, and better protection and better forestry practices could absorb 7 billion ton of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, said the authors.
Agricultural lands cover 11 percent of the world's surface. Changes in the way these are farmed and managed could deliver 22 percent of the emissions reductions, said the authors. This would be the equivalent of taking 522 million petrol-driven cars off the road.
Better use of chemical fertilizers could improve crop yields while reducing emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The world's wetlands—too often at risk from human exploitation—cover less than 6 percent of the planet's land surface, but they hold the most carbon per hectare.
Simply by not draining peatlands—and around 780,000 hectares a year of these are lost to plantations—humans could conserve 678 million tons of carbon a year by 2030, which would be much the same as taking 145 million cars off the roads.
And, the scientists say, there would be other rewards. Their natural climate solutions "offer a powerful set of options for nations to deliver on the Paris agreement while improving soil productivity, cleaning our air and water, and maintaining biodiversity."
"Re-greening the planet through conservation, restoration and improved land management is a necessary step for our transition to a carbon-neutral global economy and a stable climate."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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