Scientists publish strategy for carbon neutral land sector by 2040

By Brooks Hays
New research lists curbing deforestation as the top priority for making the planet's land sector carbon neutral by 2040. Photo by Cunningchrisw/Wikimedia Commons
New research lists curbing deforestation as the top priority for making the planet's land sector carbon neutral by 2040. Photo by Cunningchrisw/Wikimedia Commons

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- How humans use and manage land over the coming decades will go a long way toward determining whether global warming can be stopped and the planet spared. To those ends, an international team of scientists has published a roadmap for a carbon neutral land sector by 2040.

The new paper, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers strategies for curbing deforestation, boosting land restoration and accelerating cuts in carbon emissions.


Scientists with the United Nations claim the worst of the effects of climate change can be avoided if humans can limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do that, scientists and policy makers suggest carbon emissions must be reduced to zero by 2040.

Several reports -- including one published by UN scientists -- have cited the role land plays in carbon emissions and global warming. When natural fields and forests are cleared to make way for human development, significant amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere.


Not only do deforested and cleared land often go on to host carbon-emitting activities, they can also no longer help soak up and store excess carbon.

For the latest study, researchers assessed 24 different land management practices and characterized the carbon emissions mitigation potential of each. After analyzing the two dozen mitigation strategies, scientists settled on six priority actions.

First and foremost, according to the study's authors, countries must curb deforestation, peatland drainage and burning and mangrove conversion by 70 percent over the next decade. Secondly, nations must ramp up efforts to restore forests, drained peatlands and coastal mangroves. Third, countries need to improve forest management and agroforestry. Fourth, nations need to bolster soil carbon sequestration. Fifth, nations must work to reduce food waste. And finally, nations must enact policies to promote plant-based diets -- with at least one in five people eating primarily plant-based diet by 2030.

The number crunching presented in the new paper suggests the six priorities would be enough to contribute 30 percent of the mitigation needed to meet the 1.5 degree target established by the Paris Agreement.

"The roadmap foresees a phased approach where first actions to avoid emissions are prioritized. This means concentrating on avoiding deforestation in hotspot geographies such as Brazil and Indonesia," Michael Obersteiner, researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said in a news release. "More high-tech options on carbon removal from the atmosphere need to be tested and piloted today. However, large scale deployment is not expected to happen within the next decade given current realities of the international climate policy regime."


If nations follow the newly released roadmap, the land sector will be carbon neutral by 2040 and there will be a net carbon sink of about three gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide, GtCO2e, per year by 2050.

But the land sector is just one sector, and scientists suggest the industrial, energy and transportation sectors will have to significantly cut emissions in the coming decades to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

According to lead study author Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, carbon capture technologies will also need to be developed to help natural ecosystems reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere.

"Restoring forests, peatlands, wetlands and agricultural soils is immediately viable, proven at scale, and provides many other benefits compared to other climate solutions," Roe said. "However, we will also need to develop and pilot additional negative emissions technologies -- like direct air capture and low-impact bioenergy with carbon capture and storage."

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