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- Despite caution from scientists, policymakers and corporates still assume that natural carbon sinks like forests will mop up their fossil fuel emissions.
What are carbon sink?
- A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – for example, plants, the ocean and soil.
- In contrast, a carbon source is anything that releases more carbon into the atmosphere than it absorbs – for example, the burning of fossil fuels or volcanic eruptions.
- Greenhouse gases (GHG) follow a natural cycle — they are constantly released into the atmosphere and are removed from it via natural ‘sinks’ such as the land and oceans.
- About 56 per cent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by humans is absorbed by the oceans and land — about 30 per cent by land and the rest by oceans.
- Land — forests, grasslands and wetlands plays a critical role in the world’s desperate fight against climate change.
- These ecosystems act as sinks and remove a part of the CO2 emitted through human activities like burning fossil fuels.
- Land is also a source of emissions — burning of forests and other disturbances add CO2 to the atmosphere.
- Land use accounted for 13 per cent of anthropogenic C02 emissions during 2007-2016, accordting to the Special Report on Climate Change and Land 2019 (SRCCL) by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
- It also provides a net sink of around 11.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to 29 per cent of the total CO2 emissions in the same period.
Land Sink as part of the mitigation strategy
- The role of land (forests and agricultural land) as a mitigation pathway to reduce CO2 emissions was recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.
- The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 endorsed the notion that not only should governments employ policies to enhance the land carbon sink capacities of their territories but also that such mitigation could be set against requirements for reductions in emissions from fossil fuel consumption.
- 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”, where countries and organisations made pledges in ‘million hectares’ of forested land to be restored.
- 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”.
- In January 2020, business representatives from the world’s major corporations signed on to the ‘one trillion tree’ initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plant a trillion trees by 2030.
- In May 2021, the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union) pledged to conserve or protect “at least 30 per cent of the global land and at least 30 per cent of the global oceans by 2030 to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and address climate change.”
- 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 to mobilise at least $1 billion for financing countries committed to protecting their tropical forests was supported by corporations like Unilever plc, Amazon.com, Nestle and Airbnb.
Why Land sink matters?
- Soils store three times more carbon than exists in the atmosphere.
- Plants absorb atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis, so the return of plant residues into the soil contributing to soil carbon.