An international study has found that natural solutions to mitigate climate change, such as reforestation, could have the same effect globally as taking 1.5 billion cars off the road.
CSIRO collaborated with The Nature Conservancy and 14 other institutions on the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which forms the most comprehensive assessment to date of how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by and stored in forests, farmland, grasslands and wetlands.
The paper, entitled Natural Climate Solutions, concludes that “Alongside aggressive fossil fuel emissions reductions, NCS offer a powerful set of options for nations to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement while improving soil productivity, cleaning our air and water, and maintaining biodiversity”.
The top three land management solutions identified – reforestation, avoiding further forest losses and improved forestry practices – could cost-effectively remove seven billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere annually.
CSIRO Agriculture and Food Chief Research Scientist Dr Mario Herrero said natural climate solutions are vital to ensuring a stable climate, food security and biodiversity.
"Our environment is our life, and investing to protect, restore and rejuvenate it will pay dividends," Dr Herrero said.
"Implementing natural climate solutions across the world is vital to maintain stable weather systems and temperatures, which enables food to be reliably produced for all of us; while also nurturing biodiversity," he said.
The study found all of the identified natural climate solutions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, which is the equivalent of taking 1.5 billion cars off the road or halting the burning of oil across the world.
This would also meet 37 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to hold global warming below 2°C.
Dr Herrero said these were grand but achievable goals, and the benefits to society globally meant they could not be ignored.
"Being able to achieve the equivalent of taking all the cars off the road today, without disrupting industry or the economy, makes this an attractive proposition not to be ignored," he said.
CSIRO provided analysis for two of the 20 land management options investigated in the report, finding possible reductions in methane emissions in grazing systems through improved feed and animal management and associated land use savings.
Improvements in agricultural practices including cropland nutrient management, conservation agriculture and trees in croplands, could deliver 22 per cent of the emissions reductions identified in the study.
"We still have the opportunity to lead sustainable lifestyles for the world around us, and even improve it if we take simple and effective steps like these to invest in natural climate solutions," Dr Herrero said.
The paper, Natural Climate Solutions, is available here.