By Joyce Ojanji

Countries’ intention to use 633 million hectares of the total land area for carbon capture tactics like tree planting, would eat up land desperately needed for food production and nature protection.

This is according to a new study, released by Melbourne Climate Futures, the University of Melbourne’s interdisciplinary climate research initiative, which looked at individual pledges and their implications on land use.

According to the Land Gap Report, countries need to reduce their reliance on land-based carbon removal in favor of stepping up emissions reductions from all sectors and prioritizing ecosystem-based approaches to restoration. This is because, if the countries’ climate land pledges are implemented, they will increase competing demands made on land.

The report notes that governments’ reliance on land-based carbon removal in current climate pledges is unrealistic in terms of available land and unfeasible in terms of the human rights tensions that devoting land primarily to carbon removal implies.

Further, land-based carbon removals make an important contribution to mitigation efforts only if they are accompanied by rapid and deep cuts in fossil fuel emissions from all sources.

Kate Dooley, the lead author of the report and a researcher at the University of Melbourne said that land has a critical role to play in global efforts to keep the planet cool, but it’s not a silver bullet solution.

“Faced with a global land squeeze, we must think carefully about how we use each and every plot of land,” said Dooley.

“Yet countries treat land like a limitless resource in their climate plans. Using a land area equivalent to half of the current global croplands for tree planting simply won’t work, particularly when the evidence in front of us shows the fragility of tree planting to worsening climate impacts like fires and droughts.”

According to Brendan Mackey, a report co-author and a professor at Griffith University, Australia. “A three-step approach that prioritizes the protection of forests and other ecosystems, then focuses on restoration and sustainable land use would help achieve climate outcomes in addition to food production, biodiversity and human rights goals,” Mackey said.

According to the report, to deliver on zero-carbon pledges, countries should reorient their climate plans towards focusing on protecting and restoring forests, safeguarding the rights of Indigenous People, transforming unsustainable food and agricultural production systems, understanding that not all carbon is the same and monitoring corporate pledges.

The report observes that restoration improves ecosystem functions and services that are relevant for broader ecological and social benefits, adding that food system transformation based on agroecological principles is critical for achieving socio-ecological resilience to climate change, as well as the promotion and realization of human rights, and in particular the right to food.