Natural Climate Solutions Have Same Impact as Taking Millions of Vehicles Off the Road

10.27.17 | Member Reports | By:
Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought, according to the most comprehensive assessment to date of how GHG emissions can be reduced and stored in forests, farmland, grasslands and wetlands using natural climate solutions.

The peer-reviewed study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expanded and refined the scope of land-based climate solutions previously assessed by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The findings are expected to bolster efforts to ensure that large scale protection, restoration, and improved land management practices needed to stabilize climate change are achieved while meeting the demand for food and fiber from global lands.

Accounting for cost constraints, the researchers calculated that natural climate solutions could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes per year by 2030 – equivalent to halting the burning of oil and offering 37% of the emissions reductions needed to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. Without cost constraints, natural climate solutions could deliver emissions reductions of 23.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, close to a third (30%) more than previous estimates.

The chart below shows, for each natural climate solution, the number of cars that would be removed from the road.

I had just finished interviewing John DeCicco, Research Professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, about the validity of lifecycle analyses. When I asked him what would be a good transport policy if not biofuels here’s what he said, which I thought was interesting considering this study and why I am posting about it for clients:

“My analysis actually implies that instead of trying to make biofuels, we should be doing a lot more forest protection, regrowing forests, grassland protection, building up carbon stocks in the atmosphere on land and protecting the atmosphere by building up carbon stock from land rather than taking that land, increasing the pressure on it by putting fuel demands on top of food demands, which ends up releasing carbon from the land as opposed to building it. In short, we should be using what good land we have for a lot more reforestation rather than converting it to biofuel production…”

That is not going to happen. Policies such as the Renewable Fuels Standard, Low Carbon Fuels Standard and the Renewable Energy Directive will continue. Other countries have or will set biofuels mandates. But, some kind of collective industry effort respecting reforestation, might be an interesting initiative to consider.