Paris Agreement brings about negative emissions

The Paris climate Agreement recently entered into force, and it sets the bar higher than before. The goal is to mitigate climate change so that the temperature increase stays under 2° C, and to strive for limiting the increase under 1.5° C. Central for fulfilling the commitments of the Agreement are zero emissions from energy production, increased investments in energy efficiency and extensive binding of carbon dioxide.

All the climate models I have seen suggest that it is no longer enough to have zero carbon dioxide emissions; by 2050, we will need negative emissions. Negative emission means binding more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the amount of carbon dioxide being added to it. Emissions can be bound by growing carbon sinks in the form of forests and soil, by combining the production of bioenergy with carbon collection and storage, and by sucking carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere.

For binding carbon, biology beats technology. Technologies are still being tested or developed in laboratories, while many open questions about their large-scale use remain. Instead, photosynthesis by plants is a large-scale biological process that has been proven to work in the long term. Through photosynthesis, more carbon can be bound to plants, trees and soil.

Soil is at the centre of the solution for binding carbon. The carbon binding potential of soil is massive. On a global scale, soil contains about 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon. If the carbon content of soil increased by four per mille a year, it would neutralise the added fossil carbon in the atmosphere caused by human activity. This is a path that enables man-induced carbon dioxide emissions to be negative.

All in all, one of the central decisions of the Paris Agreement can be seen to be the significant increase of carbon binding by soil. Since we know that non-balanced agriculture that relies on chemical inputs has reduced the carbon content of soil significantly during the latest decades, it is our task to reverse the trend. The technology and operational models for increasing soil carbon exist, but their implementation is not yet a part of mainstream agriculture. The solution includes crop rotation, year-round vegetation, no-till farming, manure recycling and agroforestry economy. For the farmer, it is a win-win solution: increased carbon content of the soil improves growth capacity and crop yield.

One special feature of the Paris Agreement consist of the so called pledges whose fulfilment is being monitored. Pledges are first and foremost made by states, but every single person has an important role – and a duty. The change toward a climate savvy world will not take place without a significant change in consumer demand. Choices made by individual people cumulate and become noteworthy. We all have the power to direct consumption towards carbon-binding food production and the efficient and necessary use of renewable energy.

You can join the group striving towards negative emissions and make your own climate pledge at climatepledge.global.

Further information:

Lassi Linnanen, Professor, lassi.linnanen@lut.fi, +358 50 550 3305, Twitter: @LassiLinnanen

 

Read next: