By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Sept. 10, 2015
Developed countries “ought to be embarrassed” by less-wealthy nations’ pledges to fight global warming by changing agriculture, forestry and other land use practices, as the developing countries’ promises go much further and are more detailed, researchers said Thursday as a prominent scientists’ organization released a major report on the issue.
The pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are set to be announced ahead of the signing of a global climate treaty at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December. World leaders hope the pact will reduce emissions in an effort to avert the worst effects of climate change.
U.N. climate experts have said the world will not only have to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 80-90 percent by 2050, but must also increase removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to avoid dangerous climate change.
Thursday’s report, “The Land Sector in the Second Wave of INDCs,” by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) — a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts — is the second in a three-part series. It focuses on land use sector INDCs from China, Canada, Ethiopia and Morocco.
“Land use emissions come from agriculture, forests and deforestation, from livestock production, from manure and from excessive fertilizer use,” Doug Boucher, co-author of the report, told Al Jazeera.
“That makes up about one-quarter of all global warming pollution, according to the most recent estimates. Three-quarters of emissions come from the energy sector including fossil fuels, electricity, cars, aviation, shipping and industry,” Boucher said.
But the land use sector is especially important because, unlike the energy sector, it offers the possibility of carbon sequestration — or reversing some of the climate change-causing emissions already released into the atmosphere, the report said. For example, trees’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide can be incorporated into carbon sequestration plans, Boucher said.
As of July 2015, 48 countries — 20 sovereign nations and the 28-member European Union — had announced their INDCs. The first wave of announcements came in March, Boucher said, and UCS scientists said then that developing countries were more specific and ambitious in their plans for land sector actions than larger, developed nations.
In their Thursday report, the scientists said the same was true of the second wave of INDCs, which came this summer. The latest report focused on four — China, Canada, Ethiopia and Morocco.
“We highlight in this report that Ethiopia and Morocco have actually been considerably more transparent than China and Canada, which is somewhat similar to what we found in our first report where Mexico was really considerably better than either the U.S. or the EU in terms of saying what it planned to do,” Boucher said.
“That’s not what you’d expect. The richer countries have the capacity to do analysis and describe their plans in detail. But so far, that’s not the case — it seems to be more of the opposite.”
In its land use sector INDC, China took both agriculture and forests into account and said it would reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration. It also said it would mitigate its methane emissions through rice field management, and planned to achieve zero growth in fertilizer use by 2020, the report said.
While its targets were specific and quantitative, China’s INDCs lacked details on measuring or verifying compliance, and didn’t distinguish between existing projects and planned projects, the UCS said.
The scientists said Canada’s INDCs focused mainly on trying to reduce emissions in the transportation and energy sectors, and didn’t include specific policies for land use — even though the country has a great deal of potential for reforms in the land use sector.
Canada also omitted naturally occurring emissions from its INDC, even though it has a strong ability to control them, the scientists said. They said most of Canada’s forest-related emissions resulted from wildfires and beetle infestations — both of which they said are relatively easy to address through forest management.
“In contradiction to that, both Ethiopia and Morocco had quite a bit of detail on reforestation plans, reducing deforestation and improving agriculture so it’s not emitting as much, and also some detail on how to adapt to the impact of climate change on agriculture,” Boucher said.
Ethiopia focused a large part of its INDCs on the land sector, largely because most of the country’s emissions come from livestock, crops and deforestation, the report said. It said Ethiopia’s goals are specific, as the country hopes to add over 17 million acres of forest cover to improve wood-stove efficiency and to reduce emissions from agriculture.
Morocco was the strongest in the second wave of INDCs in addressing land sector emissions, the report said.
“In the case of Morocco we actually had some numbers that said, here’s how much we propose to reduce emissions and here’s how much we can do with foreign help versus without,” Boucher said.
Morocco pledged to reduce all-sector emissions by 13 percent by 2030 — or by 32 percent with international support — the report said. “That’s a very useful thing for countries to tell the rest of the world,” Boucher said, as it would help experts analyze whether or not the world’s INDC pledges will do enough to stop the worst effects of climate change.
Morocco also pledged to modernize its agriculture sector and support sustainable growth and management of its natural resources. It planned to increase forests by about 123,000 acres per year, clarify forest areas, and rehabilitate other natural ecosystems.
When the first wave of INDCs was announced, Boucher said many scientists were disappointed because the pledges were much less ambitious than they had hoped.
“There was still some expectation that maybe this will get better with time, and future INDCs would have more details so you could add them up and figure out, are we on track, or aren’t we?” Boucher said. Most scientists agree that the world’s pledges must amount to enough emissions cuts to keep the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, while some have said even that is too high. U.N. reports have said the world is currently on track for 5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century.
“It’s becoming pretty clear that we’re not going to get that kind of information,” Boucher said.
UCS scientists hope the fact that countries like Ethiopia, Morocco and Mexico have set their bars so high will influence developed nations to improve their own plans for reducing emissions.
“I would say that the fact that the ability to make plans and deal with climate issues is present, even in small and poor countries, is in some ways a challenge to the rich countries,” Boucher said. “The big countries that have not given hardly any detail ought to be embarrassed.”