When Bill Gates speaks, people listen. His contributions to tackling global problems have been nothing short of extraordinary, ranging from funding cutting-edge vaccine development to supporting groundbreaking initiatives on climate change. At New York Climate Week in September, his stance on climate change did not go unnoticed and even garnered discussion.
Basically, their argument is that emissions will peak and then begin to decline. They will not go down as fast as we would like, so temperatures will continue to rise. Reversing this trend will require large-scale carbon removal. The goal of staying below 2°C (less than 1.5) appears lost, but we will not find ourselves in a worst-case scenario, and it is unlikely we will go above 3C. He says that planting trees will not solve the climate problem. Even forceful implementation of climate policy will not work. It is better to invest in new technologies for carbon removal, clean energy and electric vehicles, and implement policies like a carbon tax that can finance future green technologies.
This is a solid argument, but it depends on the nature of the role it plays in the change. There is no possibility that we can limit the worst effects of climate change without saving our remaining ecosystems.
There are two things worth considering here. First, nature has a large untapped mitigation potential that could make a significant contribution to stabilizing our climate. Second, there is the presence of so-called tipping points that could make unfeasible climate strategies that already require huge amounts of carbon removal.
a simple account
Let’s start with nature’s contribution to mitigating climate change. There is scientific consensus that to have a good chance of staying within 2 degrees, the global community needs to cut emissions by 13 to 15 gigatonnes by 2030. This is equivalent to more than three times the emissions of the European Union, and this is on top of existing efforts.
Where can these emissions reductions come from? The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the near-term mitigation potential of halting ecosystem loss, restoring degraded ecosystems, and improving forest management is equivalent to that of solar, wind, and nuclear. Nature’s contribution to bridging the gap has been estimated at between 4 and 7 Gt/year. Tapping this potential takes us closer to the 2030 target. This is still a difficult task, but possible.
It is challenging to build a case in which non-nature sectors provide sufficient emissions reductions and removals over time to prevent us from meeting the 2030 and 2050 mitigation targets. Although significant mitigation efforts are underway in the renewables and transportation sectors, it is becoming clear that the pace of transition is not sufficient. Climate policy is also influenced by what is politically attractive.
Then, there are potential tipping points: conditions in which a system converges, perhaps irreversibly, toward a new equilibrium. Tipping points make decarbonization trajectories more uncertain and could take us into dangerous territory. For example, there is growing evidence that continued deforestation of the Amazon may alter regional rainfall patterns, and in turn, lead to irreversible conversion of rainforests to savannas with the release of massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Is. Reach such a tipping point and the possibility of a worst-case climate scenario looks more and more real. Preserving ecosystems is like buying a fire insurance policy: You may never have to use it, but it’s a good idea to have it. Stopping and reversing ecosystem loss as soon as possible must be a priority, not only because of the vast biodiversity and societal benefits they provide, but also because of their enormous carbon storage capacity.
where it gets complicated
For example, policies banning deforestation can be effective. But as Mr. Gates rightly says, policies can be reversed. Finding cheaper alternatives to palm oil, soy and meat, to mention a few drivers of deforestation, would also be an important contribution. But as long as there is no economic value to nature conservation, forests and other ecosystems will continue to be transformed.
A necessary condition for keeping ecosystems standing is to make nature more valuable alive than dead. Carbon markets and programs that reward people and communities for concrete results in conserving nature are some ways to accomplish this. Increasing the price of forest carbon and private sector investment in high-quality emissions reductions from nature would be a game-changer. Carbon emissions from nature loss are real – bringing them to net zero would provide transformative reductions. Technological advances in measuring forest loss, as well as changes in the protocols by which emissions reductions are calculated, measured, and verified, are already producing high-quality carbon credits that companies can use to offset unabated carbon emissions. Can and should be bought for.
Recent research analyzing transactions reported by more than 7,000 companies shows that those engaged in carbon markets are almost twice as likely to commit to decarbonizing their operations. They are investing three times more in reducing emissions than companies that abstain from credits. They are also 3.4 times more likely to have science-based climate targets. In other words, most companies participating in the carbon market are not getting a free pass on internal decarbonization.
Mr. Gates is right—we need to focus on the tools we have to reduce carbon emissions. However, there is global consensus that we need energy, transportation, manufacturing and other sectors to step up decarbonization efforts, as well as increase funding and incentives for ecosystem conservation and restoration. We need to invest in nature-based solutions to fill the gap that other sectors will not be able to.
We need an all-in-one approach. Many things must happen to reduce emissions—but we have the tools and solutions. We need to use them all if we want to have a chance of reaching our climate goals.
Gabriel Labbett is Head of the Climate Mitigation Unit in the Ecosystems Division of the United Nations Environment Programme.
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