Getting To Net-Zero Carbon: How Conservation Can Help

These days there is a lot of talk about ‘net-zero carbon’ and how to achieve it.  In this post, we will discuss what is meant by net-zero carbon, review high level strategies to get to that, and specifically show how conservation can help.

What is net-zero carbon?

Net-zero carbon (or just net-zero) means we are not adding additional emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

 

Net-zero carbon differs from zero carbon.  Zero carbon means that no carbon emissions are being produced from any product/service. The World Resources Institute explains, ‘Net-zero carbon’ is not the same as ‘zero carbon’.  ‘Net’ means minimizing ‘human-caused emissions’ to ‘as close to zero as possible’ with ‘any remaining’ emissions balanced out by the ‘equivalent amount of carbon removal’ – for instance, by ‘restoring forests’ or with carbon capture.

 

Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. Therefore, a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or “net zero” emissions within the next few decades, with net-zero by 2050 as the goal.

How do we get to net-zero?

But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there, either by reduction or by removal/offset.

 

On the reduction side, there are many proposed solutions including:

  • emissions reduction of transportation (e.g., electric vehicles)
  • reducing emissions from agriculture/livestock (e.g., eating less meat and more plant-based foods)
  • using high speed trains instead of airplanes
  • modernization of transit and smarter cities
  • improving efficiency and developing new technology in other sectors generating emissions that are unable to easily reduce them, such as manufacturing and agriculture
  • fostering more innovation in sustainable energy and, therefore, use less fossil fuels and more clean energy.

 

The removal and offset solutions primarily revolved around investment in bio-sequestration (also known as reforestation or tree-planting) and carbon-negative technologies to offset any continuing or unavoidable emissions.

 

Bio-sequestration involves adding green spaces and sequestering more carbon.  These “nature-based solutions” include forests, peatbogs, mangroves, soil, and even underground seaweed forests, which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon.

Most national plans achieve this through land management techniques such as reforestation (planting trees where they previously existed) and afforestation (planting trees where they had not previously existed).  However, the amount of CO₂ offset through natural carbon-negative solutions can be difficult to measure. Additionally, the long-term delivery of the carbon offsets cannot always be guaranteed – for example, a replanted forest or newly planted trees may die or be burnt in a bushfire releasing CO₂ back to the atmosphere.

Other more engineered solutions can also remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. They include the use of

biochar – a charcoal-like material added to soil. It promotes microbial activity and soil clumps which prevents organic plant matter breaking down and releasing carbon. But this method is still not perfect.

And there is also minimization of deforestation.  To quote Bill Gates in his recent book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: “The most effective tree-related strategy for climate change is to stop cutting down so many of the trees we already have.”

 

How does conservation help?

Reforestation, afforestation, and prevention of deforestation is what conservation is all about.

By preserving and restoring our natural landscape, conservation helps mitigate the negative impacts of climate change by carbon absorption.  Preservation of natural lands stops deforestation and consequently helps get to net-zero.  Reforestation and afforestation augment nature’s capabilities.

These actions not only promote carbon absorption, but they also create healthier communities, and improve the resiliency of ecosystems.   In fact, this may be needed.  While nature is innately restorative, regeneration does not always occur completely on its own.  In many cases, ecosystem restoration requires intentional human intervention.  Planting native trees and shrubs in degraded or deforested landscapes is an intentional regenerative process that restores soil health, increases productivity, and stabilizes underground aquifers.  In other words, this creates a more resilient ecosystem.

And The Conservation Foundation is at the forefront of these efforts, having preserved more than 35,000 acres of land – and that includes a whole lot of trees.

Ready to fight for conservation and help with getting to net-zero?  Well, conservation and preserving forests is what TCF does every day.  We can all do more together than we can alone.  Join our collective momentum – Become a member today!

Feel free to comment on this blog with your ideas on conservation and net-zero carbon.

Written By Steve Stawarz, Oak Brook
DuPage County Advisory Council Member

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