Study Identifies Opportunities for Land-Based Carbon Removal to Address the Climate Crisis

A new study offers a range of new geospatial maps that enhance current knowledge of the global gap between present and potential carbon storage on land. Also, it provides a framework for action to identify the complete potential of land-based carbon storage as a natural solution for the climate.

Study Identifies Opportunities for Land-Based Carbon Removal to Address the Climate Crisis.

Image Credit: Miha Creative

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),

The study is well-timed, coming in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Working Group III’s latest report, which concentrates on the urgent need to decrease carbon emissions.

This has been done to restrict future warming and stresses the crucial mitigation potential of natural and managed ecosystems given the opportunity they offer to remove additional carbon from the atmosphere.

From forests to soils, terrestrial ecosystems store enormous amounts of carbon globally, and are capable of storing even more.

Dr. Wayne Walker, Study Lead Author and Carbon Program Director, Woodwell Climate Research Center

Walker added, “But realizing the untapped potential of land to aid in addressing the climate crisis means understanding how much storage space is available, where in the world that space is located, and what actions can be taken in those places to take advantage of the opportunity they offer as rapidly as possible. This study provides the data and conceptual framework for doing that.”

By making use of the new global maps, scientists measured the hidden potential carbon storage of both above- and below-ground woody biomass and soil organic carbon. They also discovered 287 petagrams of carbon storage that was untapped, along with 78% availability in woody biomass and the leftover 22% in soils, throughout temperate, tropical, and boreal climate zones.

These findings disclose the considerable ability for extending land-based carbon capture throughout the world via the restoration, enhanced management, and maintenance of forests and also other woody systems.

Enhanced management of present forests alone might provide over 75% of the untapped potential, with the majority (71%) of it concentrated in tropical ecosystems.

Forest stewardship represents the greatest opportunity for realizing carbon removal and storage in the near term, and the urgency of the climate crisis demands that we prioritize these efforts.

Peter Ellis, Study Co-Author and Director, Natural Climate Solutions Science, The Nature Conservancy, Woodwell Climate Research Center

Ellis added, “Our research shows that after safeguarding lands required for food production and human habitation, improved management of forests and other woody systems—particularly degraded forests across the global tropics—offers tremendous climate mitigation potential.”

While the observations point to the significant opportunity that land provides as a natural climate solution based on what is now known, this research cannot stop there.

We anticipate these findings will prove valuable for many countries, since natural climate solutions figure heavily in delivering Paris Agreement commitments in most countries; however, these results must be combined with a range of other information to prioritize and effectively implement natural climate solutions.

Bronson Griscom, Senior Director, Natural Climate Solutions, Conservation International, Woodwell Climate Research Center

Griscom added, “For example, we need to consider spatially explicit predicted climate conditions, costs, and implications for local human wellbeing, as we work with stakeholders to prioritize and design restoration efforts.”

Both the IPCC report and the new study suggest land-based, natural climate solutions as significant for driving large-scale greenhouse gas emissions reductions and improved removals (IPCC WGIII, 2022).

Such measures—such as management, maintenance, and restoration of terrestrial systems—need globally consistent frameworks to precisely fulfill current gaps and inform targeted mitigation solutions and landscape-level planning. This study initiates a crucial dataset for these measures to be obtained.


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