Let’s talk land sinks: Are they enough to beat global warming

Source: This post is based on the article Let’s talk land sinks: Are they enough to beat global warming published in Down to Earth on 2nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Relevance: Protecting land is important in the fight against global warming.

Synopsis: The world is not on track to reduce GHG emissions at the scale needed to avert a temperature rise of 1.5 °C over pre-industrial levels. The solution, then, is to find ways in which emissions can be removed from the atmosphere and growing trees become part of this package.


About 56% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by humans is absorbed by the oceans and land out of which 30% is removed by land alone. Forests, grasslands and wetlands act as sinks and remove a part of the CO2 emitted through human activities like burning fossil fuels.

On the other hand, the land is also a source of emissions —burning of forests and other disturbances add CO2 to the atmosphere.

How does land help in reducing GHG emissions?

According to the Special Report on Climate Change and Land 2019 (SRCCL) by the IPCC, land use accounted for 13% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions during 2007-2016. But it also provided a net sink of around 11.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to 29% of the total CO2 emissions in the same period. This means 29-30% of human-driven CO2 emissions have been soaked up by the world’s land sinks during the past three decades.

Thus, adding to forests and restoring land can benefit local communities as environmental degradation impacts their livelihoods and impoverishes communities. It highlights the importance of land to mitigate the ill effects of GHG emissions.

What are the challenges to the existing forest cover?

Increased heat levels: Increased heat adds to the moisture stress in forests and leading to widespread burning.

Large scale cutting of forests: Forests are being cut for different economic activities, reducing their role as sinks for the CO2 released from fossil fuel burning.

All these concerns and challenges call for greater international collaboration which is evident from the following.

What are the global efforts to mitigate the challenges?

UNFCCC: The role of land (forests and agricultural land) as a mitigation pathway to reduce CO2 emissions was recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.

The Kyoto Protocol: In 1997, the Kyoto protocol, called on the government to enhance the land carbon sink capacities of their territories and to reduce emissions from fossil fuel consumption.

Bonn Challenge: In 2011, the IUCN launched the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: In March 2019, the UN General Assembly declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.

One trillion tree initiative: In January 2020, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, launched the ‘one trillion tree’ initiative to plant a trillion trees by 2030 and “accelerate nature-based solutions in support of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030)”.

LEAF Coalition: In April 2021, the LEAF (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance) Coalition was announced as a public-private effort led by the US, the UK and Norway. The initiative aims to mobilize at least $1 billion for financing countries committed to protecting their tropical forests. It is supported by corporations like Unilever plc, Amazon.com, Nestle and Airbnb.

In May 2021, the G7 countries pledged to conserve or protect “at least 30% of the global land and at least 30% of the global oceans by 2030 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and address climate change”.

Terms to know:


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