Assessment of 20 land management activities across more than 200 countries fills critical data gaps
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — At a time when only one country in the world is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5ºC, a new study by researchers from Climate Focus, RTI International, and other institutions provides a comprehensive reference guide on the potential and feasibility of land-based climate solutions for over 200 countries.
The study analyzes 20 land-based measures that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or remove GHGs from the atmosphere, including the protection, management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems. Other measures consider changes in agricultural practices; soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands; use of bioenergy; and demand-side measures within food systems such as reducing food waste and shifting to more sustainable and less livestock-dependent diets. If implemented in a way that delivers biodiversity and social benefits, land-based mitigation measures are considered nature-based solutions.
“Our analysis shows which and how much nature-based solutions could be prioritized country-by-country,” said Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at Climate Focus and the lead author of the study. “Many land-based mitigation activities are unique in that they can be rapidly implemented, provide additional environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, work in tandem with the decarbonization of other sectors – like energy, and are relatively low cost. For many countries, they also provide the largest share of the low-cost mitigation needed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century and deliver on the Paris Agreement targets.”
The study was developed in response to country requests to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to identify options on a regional- and individual country-basis for curtailing GHG emissions. It provides the most in-depth and rigorous assessment to date of how each country can lower their emissions through specific land-use activities, outlining cost-effective mitigation potentials, associated land footprints and feasibility.
The study found that the protection of forests and other ecosystems (peatlands and coastal wetlands) and demand-side measures (reduced food waste and shifts to healthy diets) present particularly high mitigation efficiency, high provision of co-benefits, and relatively lower costs. The prevention of deforestation and protection ecosystems also offer the highest mitigation density.
“The agricultural sector is the single largest source of both global methane and nitrous oxide and can make an important and relatively low-cost contribution to meeting emissions reduction targets. However, there is substantial variability in mitigation potential and costs across countries depending on current emissions, climate and soil characteristics, production practices, market conditions, and other factors. Our study captures important differences in the relative potential of individual measures available within the agricultural sector as well as comparison to other land-based measures at the country level, which can help inform the development of cost-effective national mitigation plans,” said Robert Beach, Ph.D., Senior Economist and Fellow at RTI and co-author of the study.
Global greenhouse gas emissions, measured in 'carbon dioxide-equivalents' (CO2e), collectively amount to around 50 gigatons tons of CO2e each year--more than 40 percent higher than in 1990. To meet the global target of preventing temperatures from rising more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, global emissions would need to fall by about 50% each decade, until net zero emissions are reached mid-century. Yet today, global carbon dioxide emissions are set for their second-biggest increase in history.
The study was published in Global Change Biology this week.