January 27, 2015

To Avoid Worst Consequences of Climate Change, Solutions Must Include Land Use Sector

Report Shows Land Use Sector Can Close Half of Emissions Gap

WASHINGTON – (January 27, 2015) – A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds that reducing emissions from the land sector must be part of a global climate solution in order to close the “emissions gap,” the difference between the reductions in global warming pollution that are needed and the reductions that countries have pledged to make. According to UCS, closing this large and widening gap is vital to preventing the worst consequences of climate change, and the land sector can close half of the emissions gap.

The UCS study “Halfway There? What the Land Sector Can Contribute to Closing the Emissions Gap Post-2020,” provides country-specific estimates for post-2020 mitigation potential from the land sector, which includes agriculture and forestry. The report points out that only eight countries’ emissions make up 57 percent of land use emissions, which account for about a quarter of all global emissions.

“On one hand, the land sector involves activities that are fundamental to the human experience; growing food and constructing homes and clothing. So as you’d expect, land use emissions are significant. Yet on the other hand, the land sector is unique in its ability to suck up carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soils and trees. The proactive nature of the land sector makes it different from all other emitters,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report shows that the land sector’s emissions could be reduced and sequestration increased after 2020 in Brazil, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States. One of the reasons why the land sector is so important is that there are a variety of ways to reduce emissions, including reducing emissions from deforestation, peatlands, methane from cattle, nitrogen from overfertilization and other land-based activities. The report suggests that taking steps now to cement this post-2020 action to reduce emissions from agriculture, deforestation and forest degradation while increasing carbon sequestration will be essential to closing the emissions gap.

Of the eight countries, the United States has the greatest potential for reducing land use emissions. The U.S. could reduce net emissions by 2 gigatons by 2020 and by 3 gigatons in 2030 through decreasing emissions from livestock, fertilizer and soil; reducing food waste and consumption of high-emissions foods; and increasing sequestration through reforestation. Part of the reason the United States’ potential for emissions reductions is so significant is because, unlike other countries, it has not yet made major investments in land use mitigation efforts.

Over the next couple months, many countries will release their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – the emission reduction targets that will form the basis of a new climate deal to be finalized next year in Paris – to the world. As these eight countries prepare the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, the potential reductions in land use sector emissions cannot be overlooked.

“To close the emission gap, we’re going to need to reduce emissions from as many sectors as possible. But the situation is not hopeless. This report shows that there is significant potential for greater climate mitigation out there on the land,” said Boucher.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.