, MEXICO CITY, June 5 – Boosting investments in the conservation, rehabilitation and management of the Earth’s forests, peatlands, soils and other key ecosystems could deliver significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and avoid even more being released to the atmosphere, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “Tens of billions of dollars are being earmarked for carbon capture and storage at power stations with the carbon dioxide to be buried underground or under the sea.”
“But perhaps the international community is overlooking a tried and tested method that has been working for millennia, the biosphere. By some estimates the Earth’s living systems might be capable of sequestering more than 50 gigatones (Gt) of carbon over the coming decades with the right market signals,” he added.
The report dubbed ‘The Natural Fix? The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation’ is released to mark World Environment Day 2009, which was globally hosted by Mexico.
The report comes just under six months before the crucial UN Climate Convention Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, where governments need to Seal the Deal on a new, forward-looking treaty.
The adoption of a comprehensive policy framework under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for addressing ecosystem carbon management would be a very significant advance.
It is vital to manage carbon in biological systems, to safeguard existing stores of carbon, reduce emissions and to maximise the potential of natural and agricultural areas for removing carbon from the atmosphere.
The priority systems are tropical forests, peatlands and agriculture. Reducing deforestation rates by 50 per cent by 2050 and then maintaining them at this level until 2100 would avoid the direct release of up to an equivalent to 12 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide below 450ppm.
Developing policies to achieve these ends is a challenge: it will be necessary to ensure that local and indigenous peoples are not disadvantaged and to consider the potential for achieving co-benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The report says drylands, in particular, offer opportunities for combining carbon management and land restoration.
Barney Dickson and Kate Trumper of the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which spearheaded the compilation of the report said: “While more research will be needed to fully capture the carbon and livelihood opportunities from drylands, it is already clear that there is a potentially a big bang for your carbon buck.”
According to the report, recent estimates indicate that human activities are currently responsible for global carbon emissions of around 10Gt.
The research indicates that there may be scope for tackling 15 per cent of these through managing land use changes and carbon in ecosystems.
The cost of ecosystem carbon management can be very low compared to other ‘clean energy’ options.
Managing grazing, fertilizers and fire on grasslands to reduce emissions costs as little as US$5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
“Restoration of soils and degraded land cost about US$10 per tonne, whereas the costs of technological carbon capture and storage are estimated at US$20-270 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent”.
“The economic mitigation potential of forestry would double if carbon prices increased from US$20 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent to US$100 per tonne.
If carbon emissions were valued at US$100 of CO2 equivalent, in 2030 the agricultural sector would be second only to building as potentially the most important sector for achieving carbon cuts” the report said.
The report argues that a more comprehensive system of payments for ecosystem services needs to be considered.
“Our planet’s living systems have developed ingenious, efficient and cost-effective ways to manage carbon. Sending the right price signals to those who make economic and development choices about the value of preserving and effectively managing our forests, grasslands, peatlands and agricultural lands is critical for the success of any climate change mitigation strategies,” the report says.