Okay, here are the last two of Pacala and Socolow’s stabilization wedges. Remember, these wedges are ways to reduce carbon emissions. Each one is supposed to ramp up from 2004 to 2054, so that by the end it reduces carbon emissions by 1 gigaton per year. They claimed that seven wedges would be enough to keep emissions flat:
In Part 1 of this series we talked about four wedges involving increased efficiency and conservation. In Part 2 we covered one about shifting from coal to natural gas, and three about carbon capture and storage. In Part 3 we discussed five involving nuclear power and renewable energy. The last two wedges involve forests and agriculture:
14. Stop deforestation, start reforestation. They say we could stop half a gigaton of carbon emissions per if we completely stopped clear-cutting tropical forests over 50 years, instead of just halving the rate at which they’re getting cut down. For another half gigaton, plant 250 million hectares of new forests in the tropics, or 400 million hectares in the temperate zone!
To get a sense of the magnitude here, note that current areas of tropical and temperate forests are 1500 and 700 million hectares, respectively.
Pacala and Socolow also say that another half gigaton of carbon emissions could be prevented by created by establishing approximately 300 million hectares of plantations on nonforested land.
15. Soil management. When forest or grassland is converted to cropland, up to one-half of the soil carbon gets converted to CO2, mainly because tilling increases the rate of decomposition by aerating undecomposed organic matter. Over the course of history, they claim, 55 gigatons of carbon has gone into the atmosphere this way. That’s the equivalent of two wedges. (Note that one wedge, ramping up linearly to 1 gigaton/year for 50 years, adds up to 25 gigatons of carbon by 2054.)
However, good agricultural practices like no-till farming can reverse these losses — also reduce erosion! By 1995, these practices had been adopted on 110 million of the world’s 1600 million hectares of cropland. If this could be extended to all cropland, accompanied by a verification program that enforces practices that actually work as advertised, somewhere between half and one gigaton of carbon per year could be stored in this way. So: maybe half a wedge, maybe a whole wedge!
I’ve seen a lot of argument about both these topics, and I’d love to learn more facts. Some of the controversy concerns the UN’s <a href="REDD+ program, which got a big boost in Cancún. “REDD” stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — while the plus sign hints at the the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Some people think REDD+ is great, while others think it could actually hurt. The Wikipedia article says, among other things:
REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon markets and thus, will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory “compensate” for the polluters’ emissions. Offsets allow polluting governments and corporations, which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere, to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South. Moreover, it delays any real domestic action where a historical responsibility lies and allows the expansion of more fossil fuel explorations and extractions. The “carbon credits” generated by these projects can be used by industrialised governments and corporations to meet their targets and/or to be traded within the carbon markets.
There’s also a lot of argument about just how much long-term impact on atmospheric CO2 a standing forest has, though everyone seems to agree that cutting one down releases a lot of CO2.
For a bit more, try:
• About REDD+, United Nations.
• REDD+: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, Center for International Forestry Research.
Next time I’ll give you a update on the stabilization wedges from Stephen Pacala himself, based on a talk he gave in 2008. It’s a bit scary…