News  |  October 13, 2021

New study lays out opportunities to slash land-based GHG emissions from forests, farming and consumer behavior

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Aerial view of a Transition Forest area in Bokito, Cameroon. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR. Published under Creative Commons on Flickr.

CIFOR

A new study led by Climate Focus environmental scientist Stephanie Roe and including Project Drawdown senior director of Drawdown Solutions Chad Frischmann among its authors provides a comprehensive guide to the greenhouse gas mitigation potential and feasibility of land-based climate solutions for over 200 countries.

The study, published October 12 in Global Change Biology, analyzes 20 land-based measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They include the protection, management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems; changes in agricultural practices; soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands; use of bioenergy; and demand-side measures within food systems, such as reducing food waste and shifting to more sustainable and less livestock-dependent diets.

"Our analysis shows which and how much nature-based solutions could be prioritized country by country," said Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at Climate Focus and the lead author of the study. "Many land-based mitigation activities are unique in that they can be rapidly implemented, provide additional environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, work in tandem with the decarbonization of other sectors—like energy, and are relatively low cost. For many countries, they also provide the largest share of the low-cost mitigation needed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century and deliver on the Paris Agreement targets."

The section to which Frischmann primarily contributed focused on consumer measures critical for reducing methane emissions, including plant-rich diets and reducing food loss and waste.

As the recent IPCC report emphasized, methane is responsible for some 30–50 percent of the ~1ºC warming that we see today, about one-third of which comes from land. Because methane only stays in the atmosphere for 10–20 years and is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, mitigating methane emissions is a highly effective strategy for reducing warming in the near-term. Livestock management measures laid out in the study, such as reducing enteric fermentation and manure management, and consumer measures that reduce food waste and shift to plant-rich diets, are crucial for curbing methane.

"Preventing food waste and shifting to healthier, more sustainable—and still delicious—diets turns out to be crucial for achieving the 1.5ºC climate targets, ensuring future food security, and preventing continued degradation of ecosystems," Frischmann said. "When we choose to purchase food that is produced regeneratively, adopt a plant-rich diet, and reduce the ridiculous amount of food that is wasted, it turns out that a large part of the climate crisis can be averted, food security for all people can be ensured, and massive deforestation would be avoided. This is the definition of a win-win-win solution."

Other findings include:

  • Land-based measures could cumulatively reduce CO2 emissions (or their equivalents) by 8–13.8 billion metric tons every year between 2020 and 2050, or approximately 20–30 percent of the total mitigation needed to achieve the 1.5ºC temperature target.
  • Roughly half of cost-effective mitigation potential comes from the protection, restoration and improved management of forests and other ecosystems; 35 percent comes from changes in agriculture; and 15 percent comes from demand-side measures (an amount that triples when considering the impact of reduced food waste and diet shifts on avoided land conversion).
  • Forest protection that avoids deforestation and conversion of wetlands provides the highest level of mitigation potential (28 percent of total cost-effective potential); more than ecosystem restoration (13 percent) or forest management (7 percent).
  • About one-third of countries have cost-effective nature-based solutions that are more than 50 percent of their total national emissions, whereas about 15 percent of countries have potential that exceeds all their emissions.
  • About 60 percent of the cost-effective mitigation potential is found in top 15 countries, mainly because of their large size: Brazil, China, Indonesia, United States, India, Russian Federation, Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Peru, and Myanmar.
  • But when considering mitigation potential per unit area, the top 15 countries shift toward smaller, mostly forested countries and island states: Maldives, Brunei, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Malta, Rwanda, South Korea, Netherlands, Cambodia, Mauritius, Philippines and El Salvador.
  • Investment, governance and other conditions affect the feasibility of delivering land-based mitigation. To assess barriers and opportunities for implementation, the researchers developed a feasibility index based on 19 indicators. Feasibility scores identify challenges and opportunities for land-based mitigation in each country. About 80 percent of potential is in developing and least-developed countries.

"Assisting countries to overcome barriers—particularly through enhanced financing and investments—will be critical to realizing a significant amount of near-term reductions in GHG emissions," Roe said.

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Profile  |  January 24, 2023
Drawdown Science team member Yusuf Jameel
Drawdown Science Profile: Yusuf Jameel
This article is the third in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Yusuf Jameel joined Project Drawdown in 2021 as a research manager for Drawdown Lift. In January 2023 he transitioned to the Drawdown Science team as associate scientist, data science. A multidisciplinary scientist with experience in water resources, public health, data analytics, and science communication, he’s passionate about finding solutions to climate change and bridging the gap between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Yusuf obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Please welcome Yusuf as he shares his thoughts on growing up on the banks of the Ganges River, enhancing human well-being through the adoption of climate solutions, porcupine hair, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?  A. As a member of the science team, I work on climate solutions using my experience in data analysis, especially on solutions that also address the food–energy–water nexus. I also work on translating the science in a way that makes it widely accessible.  Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join Project Drawdown?   A: Project Drawdown is on a mission to actually address the biggest problem the world is facing today, climate change. I was really impressed by the book. It was the first to lay out that yes, we can address climate change—it's not just about gloom and doom, it’s also about opportunity. Project Drawdown addresses climate in a way that’s multidimensional, promotes the best science, addresses the different audiences, and passes the mic. That really motivates me. Q: What do you consider some of the biggest obstacles to implementing and scaling up climate solutions?  A: First is unlocking the finance to fund climate solutions globally. We need capital from the private sector, from banks divesting from fossil fuels, and we need to invest in green solutions. Another challenge is politics. We need to think more altruistically. This is a global challenge requiring everyone to join hands, yet it has not been the case so far. The good news is, public perception is changing. Hopefully politics will change, and more capital will be funneled into climate solutions. Q: OK, time for a break. What’s your favorite food? A: I would go with my comfort food, and that’s biryani. It’s a big tradition in South Asian countries, and if you ask anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biryani is probably one of the top dishes. It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s just so comforting.  Q: I’m sure you have many, but can you tell us about one superpower you bring to this job? A: I’m a jack of all trades. Whether it’s high-level thinking, brainstorming ideas, or actually doing the work, I’m comfortable doing it all. I’m also adaptable. If a situation requires me to step up and take the lead I can, or I can step back and follow.  Q: What's a childhood experience that relates to the work you're doing today?  A: I grew up on the banks of the River Ganges. Every now and then there would be flooding. As a result, many people would go through an annual cycle of losing crops and be entrenched in a cycle of poverty, unable to get out. This had a profound effect on me. When I started reading about climate change and seeing flooding events become more and more intense, I recognized the need to address climate and development holistically.  Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution?  A: There are so many of them! I really like Distributed Solar Photovoltaics and Reduced Food Waste, but my favorite is Clean Cooking. I think that solution can revolutionize the lives of billions of people in the world, especially young girls. It not only addresses climate but also vastly improves health, addresses gender equality, and opens up economic opportunities. If we can implement clean cooking and distributed solar, we’ll see huge changes in the lives of billions of people globally.  Q: Time for another break. If you were a nonhuman animal, what animal would you be?  A: As a kid I had short hair that was like vertical hair, as if I had had an electric shock. So many of my friends called me Porcupine. People  would rub my hair all the time as it felt like velvet. Now I keep my hair long.  Q: What gives you hope?  A: I derive my hope from two things. First, we’re rapidly advancing technology—a lot of people from across the world are putting their effort into finding and implementing the best and most important solutions to address climate change. Second,  when I was at COP27, I saw that young people are really leading the movement. That gives me hope that we can do meaningful work on this very important but challenging issue. Q: Anything else you’d like to share?  A: I like nature. I especially like mountains. This is something I realized very late in life, maybe because I grew up in cities with very little nature around. When I moved to Utah, I started going to the mountains. I realized how peaceful and how nice it is, and I can’t not talk about it.  As human societies are getting more urbanized,  a lot of us, especially young people who live in large metropolises, are cut off from nature. And I hope they reconnect with nature. We need to appreciate nature and biodiversity much more than we do. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. We need to love it, respect it, and protect it.
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