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Maximizing Land Use Strategies is Vital to Climate Action


Justin Adams

Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Alliance (seconded to the TFA from The Nature Conservancy)

September 2015

Ranchers from The Nature Conservancy's Zapata Ranch, Colorado. Photo © Nick Hall
Ranchers from The Nature Conservancy's Zapata Ranch, Colorado. Photo © Nick Hall

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:

1. Land strategies allow for more ambitious goals:

  • Climate change mitigation potential from lands comes from a diversity of ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and grasslands; and from a variety of management types, such as highly productive farms, pristine wild lands and community-managed forests. Negotiators should reflect and embrace this potential.
  • Negotiators should also make sure the potential for lands to contribute is reflected at a sufficient scale. A global agreement in Paris can ensure that we move beyond the valuable but small-scale conservation projects that have dominated efforts to date, to deliver land use solutions at their full potential—the scale necessary to address the global climate problem.

2. Reflect and respect the strong science:

  • Scientific knowledge in measuring the climate benefits from land use has significantly matured in the past two decades.
  • This robust scientific understanding provides a firm foundation for reliable measurement and reporting—which is crucial in making sure that agreements and commitments are honored and that the framework as a whole maintains credibility.
    • Signatories, participants and observers need to know the numbers to judge whether improvements are being made
    • Reliable measurement and reporting on improvement can create incentives for continuing to move in the right direction—and can spur laggards into action
    • Everyone with an interest needs to know which countries are living up to their potential and to the commitments they have made in their INDCs.

3. Generate robust action plans:

  • When the negotiations in Paris are over, the aspirations and the commitments expressed there need to become reality, captured in rigorous plans for action.
  • Everyone involved needs to be creative in working constructively across stakeholder groups: success cannot be delivered by governments or companies alone. We all need to work together and incorporate communities and civil society as a whole.

Realizing the dynamic contribution land use can make to climate mitigation requires all the steps outlined here.

The Paris negotiations must maximize the power of land use strategies to strengthen and sustain lasting climate action. It’s an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

Originally Posted on Conservancy Talk

September 18, 2015