Climate activists would tell you that governments are not doing enough to fight climate change. Climate skeptics would say we are pouring too much money into this fight. And climate models that were predicting a rise in global temperatures because of climate change have just been proven right by a study of actual data from the last twenty years.
Now, another study is warning we might need to set ourselves even higher goals in the climate change fight because the Earth’s carbon sinks are not absorbing as much carbon dioxide as before.
First, what are carbon sinks? These are natural systems that, as the name suggests, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There are three carbon sinks systemically speaking: plants, the soil, and the ocean. Plants use the carbon dioxide they absorb in photosynthesis and they do a pretty good job of this absorption: intact tropical forests absorbed about half of the carbon dioxide emissions of the planet, meaning they absorbed some 15 percent of emissions that we as species generated in the period between the 1990s and the early 2000s. But now some of these forests are past their peak, researchers have warned.
In a study titled “Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests”, an international team of scientists reported that Amazonian rainforests and tropical forests in Africa are now absorbing less carbon dioxide than they used to just 25 years ago. Over the past ten years, the scientists said, the rainforests and Africa’s tropical forests absorbed 30 percent less carbon dioxide than they did in the 1990s, signalling they have reached a state of saturation. Related: Oil Prices Collapse 8% As Novak Tells OPEC+ To Pump At Will
It appears the process is irreversible, with forests in the northern hemisphere stepping in to absorb more CO2 as the tropical forests can’t maintain their previous rates of absorption.
The problem is that we have been relying on them maintaining these rates of absorption indefinitely and basing our climate change policies on that assumption.
“These are the largest remaining tracts of intact tropical forests on the planet,” Cornell University climate science fellow Johanne Pelletier told Bloomberg in comments on the study, which she didn’t take part in. Now that these forests are past their peak, “the CO? that we produce will accumulate in the atmosphere faster. The impacts of climate change will happen faster. It will also make it harder and more costly to stabilize the climate system.”
The European Union has pledged close to $40 billion in its 2020 budget to funding climate change projects. Climate change plans released by U.S. presidential candidates are in trillion-dollar territory. And now this might not be enough just as the emission reduction goals may not be ambitious enough. This is too bad as the European Union only last week approved its climate change law.
Since the EU rightfully fancies itself a leader in climate change progress, let’s see what the law says. A gradual rise in emissions reduction targets over the next three decades is one of the stipulations. Over the shorter term, plans are to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels, although the Commissions said it will try to find ways to raise this target to 50 percent of 1990 emissions and maybe even 55 percent.
This particular stipulation draws the ire of environmentalists who argue that the EU and everyone else must focus more on short-term carbon emission reductions rather than drawn-out long-term goals. Now, the rainforest carbon absorption study seems to support the environmentalists’ approach. Related: Warren Buffett’s Secret For Super Cheap Energy
If two of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet are not taking in as much carbon dioxide as before and with human-made carbon emissions still on the rise, it may indeed be wiser to focus on the immediate term and seek ways to rein in emissions before we move on to lofty long-term goals. But how?
A group of scientists recently compiled a list of as many as 76 solutions to the looming climate crisis we already have at our disposal. Some of these are much easier listed than implemented, such as switching to more plant-rich diets, while others are already being implemented, but not on a large enough scale, such as waste reduction and recycling.
“[There] is this idea that there is going to be one or two or five or 10 solutions or technologies that can somehow be invented and going to solve the climate emergency that we’re facing now,” said one of the researchers involved in the initiative dubbed Project Drawdown, Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director. “The reality is there’s no such thing as a silver bullet ... because there are too many areas of human activity that need to be addressed.”
Could planting more trees be part of the fight? Only if we plant enough of them, which, according to yet another study, means more than 500 billion trees. If we manage to pull this off—which would be a 25-percent expansion of the current forested area of the planet—we could capture some 205 gigatons of carbon dioxide, cutting its amount in the atmosphere by a quarter. But this, too, will take time that, according to models, we might not have. All in all, it seems that those warning we are doing too little too late may turn out to be right.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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