A report found that a larger area of the United States is needed to meet net zero carbon sink tree planting commitments.
Countries have promised to devote land and resources to implementing carbon removal strategies, which focus primarily on planting more trees to absorb CO2.
Melbourne Climate Futures analysis at the University of Melbourne found that the total amount of land committed to the plans submitted to the United Nations by more than 200 countries amounts to approximately 1.2 billion hectares.
In the “Territorial Gap Report” the authors state that this is “close to the extent of the current global cultivated area” and exceeds the continental mass of the United States (983 million hectares).
The staggering figure has been described by scientists as “unrealistic” and “not feasible,” who added that it would likely have a negative impact on livelihoods, land rights, food production and ecosystems.
Calculations by climate scientists show that over half of the required area (633 million hectares) requires a change in land use to be devoted to carbon removal.
The other 551 million hectares would involve the restoration and reforestation of damaged ecosystems, which the researchers say “holds more promise for climate and biodiversity and poses fewer threats to other dimensions of sustainability”.
Such a huge land reallocation has the potential, the researchers write, to “replace food production, including sustainable livelihoods for many smallholder farmers.”
“This study reveals that countries’ climate promises are dangerously over-dependent on unfair and unsustainable terrestrial measures to capture and store carbon,” said Kate Dooley, lead author of The Land Gap Report.
“Clearly, countries are making full commitments on earth to avoid the hard work of dramatically reducing fossil fuel emissions, decarbonising food systems and stopping the destruction of forests and other ecosystems.”
He added that in the midst of a “global earth squeeze” it is necessary to think carefully about each piece of land and how it is used.
“It is worrying to see these unrealistic expectations for the earth in the country’s climate commitments, particularly at a time when the world is suffering from the food price crisis,” said co-author Jens Friis Lund, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.
“And governments aren’t alone in planning major changes in the way the land is used. Companies are currently pushing to scale voluntary carbon markets to meet the demands for carbon neutrality, but no one is counting on what’s actually possible.
“This really brings home the point that we need to rein in this push to shift the mitigation burden on the earth.”