World Environment Day: Investing in Carbon Capture and Storage – Nature’s Way

World Environment Day 2009Time to Give Forests, Mangroves, Peatlands and Climate-Friendly Agriculture a Bigger Role in Combating Climate Change, says just-released report by the United Nations Environment Programme

Time to Give Forests, Mangroves, Peatlands and Climate-Friendly Agriculture a Bigger Role in Combating Climate Change

To mark World Environment Day, hosted this year by the government and people of Mexico, the UNEP released a “rapid assessment” report today entitled The Natural Fix? The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation. The report calls for boosting investments in conservation, rehabilitation, and management of Earth’s forests, peatlands, soils, and other key ecosystems are critical in making the significant cuts needed in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report emphasizes the need for adoption of a comprehensive policy framework under the UNFCC to address carbon management across all ecosystems.

Parties meeting in Bonn through June 12th are taking the message of the report to heart.

Tens of billions of dollars are being earmarked for carbon capture and storage at power stations with the CO2 to be buried underground or under the sea,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“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) bof carbon over the coming decades with the right market signals.

This is also in line with UNEP’s Green Economy initiative as for the same dollar, euro, peso or yuan not only are we combating climate change, but potentially delivering additional economic, environmental and developmental benefits from improved water supplies, soil stabilization and reduced biodiversity losses alongside new kinds of green jobs in natural resource management and conservation.”

Key Messages from the Report

  • The adoption of a comprehensive policy framework under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for addressing ecosystem carbon
  • 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 50 Gt C this century, equivalent to 12 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide below 450ppm.
  • Peatland degradation contributes up to 0.8 Gt C a year, much of which could be avoided through restoration.
  • The agricultural sector could be broadly carbon neutral by 2030—equal to 6 Gt of CO2 equivalent or up to 2 Gt of carbon if sustainable management practices were widely adopted.
  • It is essential that climate mitigation policy is guided by the best available science concerning ecosystem carbon, and decisions should be informed by the overall costs and benefits of carbon management.
  • 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.
  • Drylands, in particular, offer opportunities for combining carbon management and land restoration.

At the moment the international climate regime only partly addresses emissions from land-use change, such as deforestation, and does not provide incentives for reducing carbon emissions from forests and other ecosystems, let alone for conserving them as carbon sinks.

It is expected that governments negotiating the new climate agreement in Copenhagen in December this year will take the first step in this direction by starting to pay developing countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

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.

UNEP and partners, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, have launched a new project among communities in Western Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and China, to assess with greater precision the amount of carbon locked away in different ecosystems and
landscapes under a variety of management regimes.

The findings, leading to a global standard upon which carbon investment decisions can
be taken, should be available in some 18 months time.

If the global community can rise to this challenge, the planet’s living systems will be our
best allies in the struggle to avoid dangerous climate change,” Mr Steiner concluded.

Read the full press release for more information on the findings in the report

Order The Natural Fix? The Role of Ecosystems Management in Climate Mitigation in print or download

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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