This is part of an ongoing series inspired by “New Year’s Resolutions” that consider what actions we need to take to maintain the habitability of our planet, and how the ocean & climate intersect when considering that future.
You can read the previous articles in this series at the links below:
- Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels
- Producing And Consuming Less Plastic
On April 4, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change will release a report focusing on strategies for a just transition to a low-carbon economy (which will not necessarily halt economic progress). This will include climate mitigation strategies, such as technology for carbon dioxide removal. Facilities for the latter already exist, with the world’s largest carbon capture facility beginning operations in late 2021. However, plenty of natural carbon capture potential, from land-based forests to seagrass beds, exists on our planet and is in need of protection.
A new study shows that vegetation on land and some aquatic ecosystems can even be a temporary source of carbon storage, so long as they are coupled with aggressive efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions. More critically, natural systems are vulnerable to disturbances created by humans and climate change. As a result, treating a natural carbon storage operation as ephemeral may be realistic.
“The risk is that carbon stored in ecosystems could be lost back to the atmosphere as a result of wildfires, insect outbreaks, deforestation or other human activities,” says co-author Kirsten Zickfeld.
Because they are so vulnerable, investing in conserving, protecting, and enhancing such systems could support the habitability of our planet. Boreal and tropical forests along with temperate grasslands offer the greatest carbon storage potential on land. The soils they take root in also play a key role. However, wetlands alone (especially because of their soils!) have 75 percent of the carbon storage potential as the other three ecosystems combined.
Not only would preserving forests, grasslands, and wetlands improve our ability to reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere that warms our planet. But, many of these systems are the scaffolding for precious habitat that many species rely on. Thus, committing to protecting natural ecosystems with carbon capture potential could be a boon to not just ourselves but also much of the other life we share this planet with.