Most countries’ climate pledges rely too heavily on natural carbon sinks that involve practices like tree planiting and land restoration, according to a new report.
To offset global emissions through the expansion of forests would require planting about 3 billion acres of trees, or an area greater than the size of the United States, the study led by Dr. Kate Dooley of University of Melbourne estimated.
Over half of the total land pledged for CO2 removal (about 1.5 billion acres) requires reforestation, while land and ecosystem restoration accounts for about 1.36 billion acres.
According to the Land Gap Report, a collaborative effort of over 20 researchers published by Melbourne Climate Futures, a high demand for reforestation could lead to displacement of Indigenous communities and small farmers and could put pressure on food security and ecosystems.
“This study reveals that countries’ climate pledges are dangerously over-reliant on inequitable and unsustainable land-based measures to capture and store carbon,” Dooley said.
The researchers behind the report urge governments to prioritise steep emission cuts over natural carbon sinks by making fundamental changes to the economic structures and models, and energy production in particular.
“Clearly, countries are loading up on land pledges to avoid the hard work of steeply reducing emissions from fossil fuels, decarbonising food systems and stopping the destruction of forests and other ecosystems,” Dooley said in a statement.
CO2 sequestration via nature restoration is unlikely to happen quickly enough to notable reduce the increasing temperatures that are expected in the upcoming decades, the authors of the report said. While land restoration is an important option for tackling the climate crisis, it cannot compensate for delays in bringing down fossil fuel emissions, the study concluded.