Despite the recent promulgation that the United States government intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the rest of the world is pressing on. With Nicaragua and Syria recently pledging their support, the United States could be the only country on the outside looking in. 

The mission of the Paris Climate Agreement is to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere in order to reach the ambitious goal of keeping the planet’s temperature “below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” While there are many factors which impact achieving this benchmark, one particular subject has been the focus of a recent scientific study: natural climate solutions.

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The study, commissioned in part by The Nature Conservancy, focuses the climate community’s attention on the impact that forests, grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural lands have on oxygen production and, more significantly, carbon absorption. 

This study is noteworthy as it provides an additional, and cost-effective, solution for carbon control. Not only can we continue to focus efforts on reducing the levels of new carbon released into the atmosphere; we can also influence a number of natural habitats available for removing the carbon that is produced. 

Simply put, natural climate solutions focus on allowing our natural world to do what it does best. The planet’s trees, wetlands, and grasslands have long been associated with carbon dioxide retention and oxygen distribution. The natural climate solutions study has finally put a real number to just how much nature contributes to our climate. It also reiterates the immense damage we are causing by the massive deforestation efforts taking place across the world.

In fact, the study discovered that natural climate solutions could contribute as much as 37% of the carbon reduction necessary to reach the lofty goal of the Paris Agreement. Not only is the use of natural climate solutions a highly cost-effective solution for carbon reduction, but it provides an opportunity for the forestry and agriculture industries to get involved in the solution.

According to the United Nations, deforestation accounts for 12-18% of the planet’s carbon emissions. Sadly, we continue to magnify this deforestation impact. Every year, according to the UN, we lose 32 million acres to deforestation, further reducing our ability to fight warming temperatures naturally.

The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that the Amazon rainforests alone hold 90 to 140 billion metric tons of carbon. Not only are we losing the forest responsible for the absorption of future carbon emissions, but deforestation also releases the existing carbon already being held by these natural areas.

The idea of natural areas acting as carbon sponges is not a new one. Nor is protecting forests and grasslands novel, either. What is exciting for proponents of the Paris Climate Agreement is that we now have a number to point to that signifies just how important these natural areas are. The response intensifies with a dual focus: reducing deforestation and promoting reforestation.

This is already happening around the world. The REDD+ program (through the United Nations) offers individual nations financial incentives to reduce deforestation and to successfully manage their forests and carbon stocks. Individual countries, such as Iceland,  are recognizing the value of trees and initiating an intensive reforestation program. 

The data from the published study is groundbreaking in the way it attaches a real number to the effect nature has on reducing the impact of carbon. However, the study illustrates that we must act now. The longer we wait to implement natural climate solutions, the lower the 37% reduction number drops. And the lower that number drops, the more unnatural solutions must pick up the slack. Humans are responsible for the significant changes in the planet’s climate, but this recent study further illustrates that nature just might provide the best chance of saving itself. 

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