Natural climate solutions (NCS), which include various land stewardship options, are methods of capturing carbon in terrestrial pools and/or lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are critical to slowing the rate of global warming in the coming decades.
An international research team led by Prof. Fu Bojie of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences has quantified China’s NCS and their contribution to climate change mitigation. On August 18, the findings were published online in Nature Climate Change.
The researchers used data from the literature, forestry inventories, public databases, and policy documents to estimate the climate mitigation associated with China’s 16 NCS pathways, which include forest, grassland, cropland, and wetland ecosystem conservation, restoration, and improved management. The findings were as follows: 0.6 Pg (or 8% of industrial CO2 emissions) per year from 2000 to 2020; 0.6 Pg (or 6% of industrial CO2 emissions) per year from 2020 to 2030; and 1.0 Pg CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year from 2020 to 2060.
If previous NCS activities from after 2020 are included, China’s NCS would offset 11-12% of industrial CO2 emissions by 2030. The researchers also calculated that at cost thresholds of 10, 50, and 100 US dollars per Mg of CO2e, respectively, 26-31%, 62-65%, and 90-91% of the future potentials can be realised.
The small proportion of China’s industrial CO2 emissions that can be offset by NCS demonstrates that transforming energy use and rapidly implementing low-carbon technologies are urgent climate mitigation priorities. However, Prof. Fu pointed out that when it comes to achieving significant reductions in emissions, technology’s potential is narrowing and costs are rising. As a result, Prof. Fu stated that “strengthening natural climate solutions will play an important role in China’s NDC and carbon neutrality.”
Due to regional heterogeneity in natural conditions, ecosystem characteristics, and management methods, the researchers discovered that different regions and provinces have distinct NCS options and mitigation potentials. The researchers proposed that in order to realise the full potential of NCS, as well as the co-benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services, a multilevel governance strategy that accounts for regional differences in various NCS pathways be developed.
According to Prof. Fu, realising the maximum mitigation potential of future ecosystems is dependent on “multipath management of large land areas.” He also mentioned the need for “comprehensive upgrading of the nation’s ecosystem management strategy.”
To achieve this goal, the researchers recommend that overall investment in ecosystem management be increased and efficiency be improved. Due to limited natural resources and economic capital, careful planning of forestation, enclosing grasslands, and reclaiming farmland is required to avoid blind expansion. The researchers also emphasised the critical importance of preserving the existing ecosystem and pursuing diverse management pathways through technological innovation and synergies.