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Natural climate solutions are about much more than carbon

Ōtepoti – How the world uses land will be doubly important over the next decade: not only in reducing carbon emissions, but also in offsetting emissions from other sectors.

Natural climate solutions are activities that bring carbon reduction together with other benefits such as biodiversity, land restoration and support for rural and indigenous communities.

The world needs to integrate conservation, restoration and sustainable production systems into a wider value system, rather than simply focusing on carbon offsets.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from land use and land-use change.

Any credible pathway to net-zero must include ending deforestation and the degradation of natural ecosystems plus reducing emissions associated with agricultural production and food systems.

Most net-zero scenarios include significant removals of CO2 from the atmosphere via reforestation and ecosystem restoration.

The way people use land will be doubly important over the next decade; not only because it has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but also because we need to offset emissions from sectors in which carbon reduction is more difficult and requires long-term technological transformation.

Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to the pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2ºC can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food.

The task of transforming the energy and land-use sectors in tandem will require supportive economic and social policy frameworks.

While timber plantations are relatively easy to measure and monitor from a climate perspective and may contribute economic benefits, they do not bring the same biodiversity benefits as restoring natural ecosystems.

The major regulated carbon markets are beginning to recognize this and create mechanisms to enhance nature-oriented outcomes alongside decarbonisation outcomes. The California forest carbon offset protocol for reforestation projects requires that native species be used.

New Zealand is currently working on policies that will make reforestation with natural species competitive through the establishment of permanent exotic pine plantations. It may be possible to apply some of these innovations in other countries too.

However, carbon markets are not going to be the only way to deliver biodiversity and sustainable development outcomes.

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