The Scandal Of Calling Plantations Forest Restoration Is Putting Climate Targets At Risk

The Scandal Of Calling Plantations Forest Restoration Is Putting Climate Targets At Risk Jen Watson / shutterstock

As trees grow they remove carbon from the atmosphere. New forests can therefore play an important role in meeting the goal of keeping Earth’s temperature to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

Governments and wider civil society are increasingly recognising these benefits. One important step was the 2011 launch of the Bonn Challenge to restore 350m hectares of forest by 2030. This is a major undertaking – the area is a little larger than the size of India.

Spurred by the necessities of drastically cutting emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to meet climate targets, many countries, including Brazil, India and China, have committed large areas to forest restoration. Adding up the Bonn Challenge and other national pledges from 43 countries across the tropics and sub-tropics – where trees grow fast – reveals that these governments have pledged to restore 292m hectares of degraded lands.

This very welcome news is, unfortunately, not all that is seems. Our new analysis, published in Nature, shows that implementing the current pledges under the Bonn Challenge will mean the 1.5℃ climate goal is still missed.

More than half of the countries involved (24), covering two thirds of the pledged area, have stated what type of forest restoration they will do: 45% of the area is slated to become plantations of a single tree species (monocultures); 21% to agriculture that mixes trees and crops, known as agroforestry; and only 34% is given to restoring natural forests.

The choice between plantations and natural forests. (1 petagram = 1 billion tonnes). Lewis et al / Nature

Such choices have profound carbon implications: for instance, our analysis shows that restoring natural forests over the whole 350m hectares of land would remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100. If instead we use the current proportion of pledges for plantations, natural forests and agroforestry applied to the whole area this is reduced to 16 billion tonnes (assuming that all new natural forests are protected to 2100). And if commercial monocultures were planted across 100% of the area just a billion tonnes of carbon would be sequestered.

Our research demonstrates that within these countries, land put aside for natural forests to return holds 40 times more carbon than plantations and six times more than agroforestry. This is mainly because natural forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere for many decades, whereas plantations are harvested every decade or so, which means almost all the carbon stored in the trees goes back into the atmosphere, as the plantation waste and wood products – mostly paper and chipboard – decompose.

Natural forests, such as Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, store lots more carbon than tree plantations. rocharibeiro / shutterstock

To put these numbers into context, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5℃, noted that meeting this target requires 200 billion tonnes of carbon to be removed from the atmosphere this century. This colossal number is equivalent to the total emissions from 1800 to 2015 from the US, China, Germany and the UK combined. New forests and other land sequestration plans are expected to account for about one quarter of this carbon removal. At 42 billion tonnes of carbon uptake, restoring only natural forests across the entire Bonn Challenge area would clearly get close to this target.

But scientists have modelled a number of emissions decline “pathways” to limit warming to 1.5℃ by 2100. All models require a reduction in emissions to net zero by about 2050. Yet, the average requirement of 200 billion tonnes of carbon removal hides wildly different levels of how much carbon will have to be removed directly from the atmosphere, a process known as negative emissions. The faster we reduce emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation to zero, the lower the level of negative emissions required.

The total scale of negative emissions deployment matters, because as well as forests the other main technology that is central to 1.5℃ scenarios also has a huge land footprint. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage is expected to capture, on average, around 130 billion tonnes of carbon via planting crops for biofuel that are then burnt in power stations. The carbon emissions are then captured and stored underground. It is expected that an additional area of one or two times the size of India is needed for bioenergy crops by 2050.

Competing climate priorities

Assuming food producing areas and old-growth forests are spared, this huge extra demand for land is most likely to displace restored forests. We estimate that if the restored natural forests under the Bonn Challenge and national schemes were converted to bioenergy crops after 2050, just three billion tonnes of carbon would be sequestered by 2100.

The solution here is that newly restored natural forests need protecting in order to protect the climate benefits they provide. Otherwise, one area of climate policy may wipe out the gains made in another.

Of all the negative emissions technologies available, allowing natural forests to return is safe, often not costly, and brings many other obvious benefits. But forest restoration can only play the critical role that it needs to if it means the same thing to policy makers as it does to everyone else: restoring areas back to largely intact largely natural forest. A new definition of “forest restoration” that excludes monoculture plantations is needed.

Our new research is part of a new interest in restoring ecosystems to help mitigate climate change. We have both signed an open letter published in The Guardian by top scientists and activists which calls for a well-funded programme to restore ecosystems to meet our 1.5C climate goal, under the banner of “natural climate solutions”. A new website elaborating on these plans notes that just 2.5% of mitigation funds goes to natural solutions, despite their promise.

Curbing climate change via restoring Earth’s ecosystems to their former glory could be a profound positive legacy of the 21st century, but not if governments and their advisers pretend that vast commercial monocultures of trees are forest restoration.

About The Author

Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University of Leeds and, UCL and Charlotte Wheeler, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Edinburgh

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…

LATEST ARTICLES

How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
by Sam Relph
The world’s largest network of automated weather stations, created to predict droughts and floods, is helping tackle…
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
by Stephanie Anderson
For years, “sustainable” has been the buzzword in conversations about agriculture.