New study shows that protecting ecosystems takes precedence over planting trees for carbon storage

Planting trees is a necessity to remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, it is not enough. Yes, tree planting is well known. Even Elon Musk advocated tree planting. However, a new study has shown that protecting ecosystems should be a top priority.

The study, published in Nature, stressed the need to drastically reduce emissions and remove more carbon from the atmosphere in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The most important action that needs to be taken is to reduce fossil fuel emissions, but Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) are needed to achieve this goal.

This includes recording and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by protecting existing ecosystems, improving the management of usable areas and restoring natural ecosystems. So yes, planting trees helps, but most of all we need to protect the ecosystems we have instead of destroying them. The study authors proposed an NCS hierarchy as a framework for both public and private sector decision-makers.

The NCS hierarchy is consistent with the biodiversity hierarchy

The authors of the study refer to a biodiversity hierarchy that was formalized in 2012 as an inspiration for the NCS hierarchy. The biodiversity hierarchy focused on mitigating the negative impacts of economic development projects on biodiversity and ecosystem services while supporting the global conservation of biodiversity. The study stated that the first three steps of this hierarchy are:

  1. Avoid negative effects on biodiversity.
  2. Minimize the inevitable impact.
  3. Eliminate negative effects by restoring the affected areas or species.

The NCS hierarchy focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or increasing carbon sequestration without harming biodiversity and human wellbeing. The NCS hierarchy is based on the biodiversity hierarchy of the AR3T framework, which includes avoidance, reduction, regeneration, restoration and transformation.

Why the NCS hierarchy is needed

The study found that scientists and conservation practitioners tend to see land-based climate protection strategies that prioritize restoration over improved management or protection, citing the following example:

“The Government of Canada announced a remarkable investment of CAN $ 3.8 billion in NCS over the next 10 years, with 81% being used for restoration (i.e. planting 2 billion trees) but only 3% for improved land management and 16% for protection. “

The assignment contradicts recent research suggesting that NCS offers the most cost-effective options for nature-based climate protection in Canada, the study says. It also indicated that countries that include the land sector in their Paris Agreement contributions are often more important than protecting, afforestation and forest restoration than improving ecosystem management. This is a tendency that is often seen in engagements in the forestry sector.

That’s just the public sector. The private sector is also mentioned and shows similar patterns. There are 93 company commitments and of those that give details of NCS actions, 78% mention recovery. Only 41% mention protection and only 43% mention improved land management.

The study also found that, in contrast, land sector emissions from corporate supply chains often come from land conversion and management. It is important to reduce these activities in order to reduce the climate impact of the supply chain.

Just over 400 companies pledged to remove deforestation from their supply chains. However, the study found that little progress had been made in this regard. Instead, companies are becoming increasingly obliged to plant trees.

“Over 400 companies have committed to removing deforestation from their supply chains, but with little progress, and meanwhile there has been an increase in company tree planting obligations. In addition, notable corporate commitments have prioritized mining over reducing emissions. “

4 criteria of the NCS hierarchy

The study breaks down four interrelated criteria that influence the general order of the NCS hierarchy. You are:

  1. The size of the reduction potential.
  2. Cost effectiveness.
  3. Time horizon.
  4. Additional benefit.

While there are other factors – such as geography, technical constraints, and the availability of ecosystems to protect and / or manage – there are other factors, such as policies and regulations, that either incentivize or discourage the introduction of NCS. There are also needs of local communities, and these will affect the longevity of an NCS intervention, the study said.

Protection, stressed the study, should come first. It can offer great short-term climate protection.

“Ecosystems can quickly lose carbon in the event of disruption, for example when forests are harvested or grassland is tilled for arable farming. In many cases, it can take decades to centuries for the carbon to recover. The loss of this “unrecoverable” carbon is effectively a permanent burden on the remaining global carbon budget to keep global warming below catastrophic levels.

“Prioritizing the protection of irretrievable carbon stocks that are threatened by disruption is crucial, as improved management and restoration NCS cannot compensate for this loss in reasonable periods of time.”

The study warned that failure to protect native ecosystems could undermine the potential effectiveness of other NCS in the same area.

Improved management is the second priority because of its lower cost reduction potential than recovery. In addition to raw material production, it can help with mitigation. Improved management of NCS will also bring many benefits, such as: B. improving soil health for the crops and increasing crop yields. Trees can help protect water quality and provide a habitat for biodiversity.

“We assume that the benefits of in situ biodiversity from improved management are less than those associated with protecting NCS or restoring native ecosystems.”

Last but not least, recovery can help NCS in its own way. It’s not as cost-effective as protection or better management, but it can help protect the climate. The study indicated that it has the potential to offer high added value, particularly in regions that have seen severe loss and degradation of native vegetation. Other benefits of restoring tree cover include carbon sequestration, improved air and water quality, and reduced heat exposure – especially in urban areas. The study doesn’t say we should focus on restoration, but we shouldn’t only Focus on restoration. We need to protect what we have while restoring what we have destroyed.

Should we stop planting trees? No of course not. But we should also stop deforestation. Policy makers, decision makers, and those who find they have to cut down a forest for whatever reason should no longer make that decision. I know it’s profitable to destroy this planet, but what’s the use of money in the bank when we’re all dead for killing our planet?

You can read the full study in nature Here.

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About Thelma Wilt

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