New study shows ecosystem protection takes priority over planting trees for carbon storage

Planting trees is a necessity to help remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, this is not enough. Yes, there has been a lot of awareness around tree planting. Even Elon Musk advocated for tree planting. However, a new study has found that protecting ecosystems should be the top priority.

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

This involves, in particular, capturing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by protecting existing ecosystems, improving the management of exploited land and restoring natural ecosystems. So, yes, planting trees helps, but above all we need to protect the ecosystems we have instead of destroying them. The study authors proposed an NCS hierarchy as a framework for decision-makers in the public and private sectors.

NCS hierarchy aligns with biodiversity hierarchy

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

  1. Avoid negative impacts on biodiversity.
  2. Minimize the inevitable impacts.
  3. Address negative impacts by restoring affected sites or species.

The NCS hierarchy focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or increasing carbon sequestration without negatively affecting biodiversity and human well-being. The NCS hierarchy aligns with the biodiversity hierarchy of the AR3T framework, which is to avoid, reduce, regenerate, restore and transform.

Why the NCS hierarchy is needed

The study noted that usually scientists and conservation practitioners often see land-based climate mitigation strategies prioritizing restoration rather than improved management or protection and gave l next example:

“The Canadian government has announced a significant investment of C $ 3.8 billion in NCS over the next 10 years, allocating 81% for restoration (i.e. planting 2 billion trees) , but only 3% to improving land management and 16% to protection.

The allocation flies in the face of recent research which suggested that enhanced NCS protection and management offers the most cost-effective options for nature-based climate mitigation in Canada, the study noted. He also pointed out that countries that have included the land sector in their contributions to the Paris Agreement often include forest protection, afforestation and restoration rather than improved ecosystem management. This is an inclination that is often observed in the commitments of the forestry sector.

It’s just the public sector. The private sector is also mentioned and it has similar models. There are 93 corporate promises and among those detailing NCS actions, 78% mention catering. Only 41% mention protection and only 43% mention improving land management.

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

Just over 400 companies have pledged to remove deforestation from their supply chains. However, the study found that there had not been much progress on this front. Instead, corporate tree planting commitments have increased.

“More than 400 companies have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, but with little progress to date, and in the meantime, there has been a wave of corporate commitments to planting. trees. In addition, notable corporate commitments have prioritized emissions reductions over emissions reductions. “

4 criteria of the NCS hierarchy

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

  1. The size of the mitigation potential.
  2. Profitability.
  3. Temporary horizon.
  4. Co-benefits.

While there are other factors, such as geography, technical constraints, and the availability of ecosystems to conserve and / or manage, there are also other factors, such as policies and regulations that encourage or discourage letting. adoption of SNC. There are also the needs of local communities, and these will have an impact on the sustainability of an SNC intervention, the study notes.

Protection, the study stressed, should be the top priority. It can offer great short-term climate mitigation.

“Ecosystems can quickly lose carbon when disturbed, such as when forests are harvested or grasslands are plowed for crops. In many cases, carbon recovery can take decades or even centuries. The loss of this “sunk” carbon is an effectively permanent drain of the remaining global carbon budget to keep global warming below catastrophic levels.

“Prioritizing the protection of sunk carbon stocks at risk of disturbance is essential, as improved management and restoration NCS will not be able to compensate for this loss over significant time scales. “

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

Improving management is the second priority because of its potential for mitigation at lower cost than restoration. Along with the production of raw materials, it can contribute to mitigation. Better management of CNS will also bring many benefits, such as improving soil health for crops and increasing crop yields. Trees can help protect water quality and provide habitat for biodiversity.

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

Last but not the least, NCS Restoration can help in its own way. It is not as cost effective as protection or improved management, but it can offer climate change mitigation. The study highlighted that it has the potential to offer high co-benefits, especially in areas that have suffered severe loss and degradation of native vegetation. Other benefits of restoring forest cover include carbon capture, improved air and water quality, and reduced heat effects, especially in urban areas. The study does not say to focus on the restoration, but that we should not alone focus on catering. We must protect what we have while restoring what we have destroyed.

Should we stop planting trees? No of course not. But we also need to stop deforestation. Policy makers, decision makers and those who determine that they should cut down a forest for whatever reason should stop making that decision. I know it pays to destroy this planet, but what good is the money in the bank when we all died because we killed our planet?

You can read the full study in Nature here.

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