More trees, the natural solution to curb climate change

In addition to the economic efforts to develop alternative energies, reforestation is a key ally in reducing carbon emissions.

The impact of human activity generates a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Two years after the Paris Agreement, the world is in a race to create a low-carbon future, which according to the World Meteorological Organization is at its highest point in 800,000 years.

“Resilient youth”: activists who challenge governments and armies. All countries have to increase their efforts. The introduction of a new tax on fossil fuels linked to the emission of carbon dioxide in the package of tax reforms sent to Congress is an important step to internalize the cost of carbon in the market and encourage innovation in clean economies.

Parallel to the process of economic transformation that must be accelerated through measures and incentives such as those mentioned above, which help internalize the negative impact of CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases, there are immensely efficient alternatives both to reduce carbon emissions and to absorb the carbon from the atmosphere.

According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, better land management could play a much more important role than previously anticipated in the reduction and storage of greenhouse gas emissions, both in forests as in croplands, pastures and wetlands. This study, conducted by scientists from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and 15 other institutions, covers 20 natural solutions to address the problem of climate change. Taking into account cost constraints, the work concludes that natural solutions for climate change could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tons per year by 2030. It is the equivalent of stopping the burning of oil and offering 37% of the emission reductions needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius by 2030, as it was ratified as an objective by the parties to the Paris Agreement.

The main natural solution to climate change: more trees. According to the FAO, 3900 million hectares or 30.6% of the total land are forests. The researchers found that trees have the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions at an efficient cost. This is because they absorb carbon dioxide when they grow, eliminating it from the atmosphere. The results of the study indicate that, by 2030, the three major options for increasing the number and size of trees (reforestation, avoiding forest loss and improving forest practices) could economically eliminate 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to taking 1500 million gasoline cars out of circulation.

Restoring the forests on lands that had previously been forested and avoiding additional losses of forests in the world are the two main opportunities. Success depends to a large extent on the use of better forestry and agricultural practices, especially those that ensure the protection of key ecosystems of the range of livestock and soybean, assigning these activities to areas whose ecosystem value is lower. The adequate balance between protected areas, restoration of green infrastructure and agricultural and livestock exploitation would not only bring about significant benefits in reducing global warming, but would also allow us to provide sustainable food security systems. Improvements in forestry practices of existing forests also allow the production of more wood fiber, while more carbon is stored, biodiversity is maintained and our air and water are cleaned.

Some Latin American countries are among the most vulnerable in the world in the face of climate impacts, with floods, shortages of drinking water and food, droughts and catastrophic storms, which already cause serious damage to the land, wildlife and communities. More than 10.6 million people in the region suffered the effects of climate-related disasters in 2016. The magnitude of the challenge is comparable to the opportunity. All countries in the region have committed to the Paris Agreement and are launching a variety of initiatives to mitigate harmful emissions and help their people adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement opened the door for natural solutions of climate change to play a much greater role, declaring that countries should protect and restore forests to reduce emissions and create carbon “sinks” that would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change 2017, called COP23, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) presented this new scientific study and also specific models for reducing emissions in the short term, such as reforestation projects, coastal resilience, protection of river basins (water bottoms), regenerative postures to avoid deforestation, etc. In Argentina, TNC is working with local and international partners in Patagonia to prevent desertification, in the Chaco to avoid deforestation and in Mendoza, together with the provincial and national governments, the IDB and the private sector, to analyze the sustainable management of watersheds, among other projects.

Our country has an enormous potential to provide natural solutions to cope with climate change. Science shows us the way to change the current productive paradigm. Coordinating efforts to integrate our natural capital with a vision of sustainable growth for the country can be one of the most significant legacies that we leave to future generations.

Climate change is probably the most important and complex challenge we face as a civilization. It highlights the need to cooperate, coordinate efforts at the precompetitive level, think systemically to remove barriers and align incentives, accelerate innovation, public policies and citizen mobilization, and create new financial mechanisms.

This is already happening with excellent results in many parts of our region and the world. We just have to accelerate the action and scale up the solutions that we know work for our environmental, social and economic objectives. The best use of soils, forests, wetlands, and agriculture, as this new scientific study proves, is one of those golden opportunities that we have to scale rapidly. It is time to work together, with governments, the private sector, multilateral organizations, civil society and communities, to remove the barriers to the sustainable management of our natural capital and catalyze innovation and investments that can help us accelerate these transformation processes.