Saving the planet may not be as expensive as we thought
Nature is among our best allies in reducing levels of carbon in the atmosphere, but how much do we have to spend? Scientists from the Earth Innovation Institute, the University of Wisconsin, and The Nature Conservancy have an answer. In the latest online publication of the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers calculate how much carbon could be removed from the atmosphere by planting trees and stopping deforestation in 90 tropical countries – that’s if carbon was at priced at $20, $50, and $100 per ton. This is the first of its kind spatially explicit directly comparable analysis of the costs and the mitigation benefits of reforestation and avoided deforestation.
- Tropical reforestation and avoided deforestation together could provide up to 191.8 billion tons of carbon mitigation between 2020 and 2050 at a cost of less than $100 per ton. On a per-decade basis, that’s as much as one-third of the mitigation needed by 2030 to keep global temperature rise below 2 °.
- Tropical reforestation can remove as much or more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at low-cost than many other “negative emissions technologies” that might become available in the future.
- Avoiding deforestation is more cost effective overall, offering 7.2 to 9.6 times as much potential carbon abatement as reforestation by 2050.
- Ten countries comprise 55% of potential low-cost abatement from tropical reforestation. Reforestation offers more potential low-cost abatement than avoided deforestation at $20/tCO2 in 21 countries, 17 of which are in Africa.
- Reforestation is still cost-effective versus other carbon sequestration options and both reforestation and avoided deforestation approaches should be pursued in parallel.
To hold climate change to below 2°C, something nearly every country committed to with the Paris Agreement, we need to reduce emissions by 197 billion tons in the next decade. Reforestation and avoiding deforestation are two of the most effective ways nature can help us achieve this goal. These two ‘natural climate solutions’ can increase carbon removal to get us to 30 percent of our Paris commitment. This innovative research uses a common approach to model how various carbon prices ($20, $50, and $100) can incentivize carbon removal.
Latin America tops the list for most low-cost climate mitigation potential through carbon removals for both reforestation and avoided deforestation. While avoiding deforestation is more cost-effective than reforestation overall, there are 21 countries where reforestation removes more carbon than avoiding deforestation at $20 and $50 per ton and 17 of those are in Africa. This puts Africa second on the list of the most low-cost potential from reforestation with Asia placing second on the list for most low-cost potential from avoided deforestation.
The science is clear. We need nature as our ally to fight climate change and research like this shows us where our efforts can have the greatest benefit. To learn more read a blog from lead authors Jonah Busch and Priya Shyamsundar.