We all hope December’s climate change negotiations in Paris will be a tipping point in the long-standing global effort to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
It is becoming increasingly clear that if we are ultimately to be successful, leaders must recognize that low-carbon land use strategies are a vital piece of the portfolio of climate action—allowing us to meet emission targets while also delivering on the other Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations (UN) will publish next week.
It is critical to recognize that tropical forests, grasslands, wetlands and our working lands offer a dynamic suite of scalable solutions, and shouldn’t merely be thought of as the offset mechanisms for emissions that they have been too often limited to in the past.
Solving a quarter of the carbon pollution problem
If we get smart land use strategies right, natural systems could mitigate approximately 25 percent of total annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions each year—while also delivering a multitude of co-benefits for economies, communities and biodiversity.
Indeed, land use is the only sector that can switch from being a net source to a net sink of carbon.
It would follow, therefore, that a solution that can address roughly a quarter of annual emissions must be an integral part of the Paris agreement.
But political reality is not yet matching the promise of these natural solutions.
Land use strategies will help leaders strengthen climate action
Early indications from pledges countries are making in the lead up to Paris—their "intended nationally determined contributions" or INDCs—suggest that there’s more work we still have to do to ensure land use plays an appropriately prominent role in the negotiations.
While some countries have set out how the land sector will play a role, alongside other mechanisms, very few countries have to this point provided hard targets about the role land use will play in meeting climate mitigation targets
We urge leaders now, and at Paris, to increase their attention to the potential of land-use solutions—guided by three key lodestars: