We know that too much carbon emission into the atmosphere is causing climate change. On the other hand, we also know that in theory, the biosphere could store all current carbon emission, as plants and the soil remove carbon from the atmosphere.
In theory, the biosphere could store all current carbon emission.
“When a forest is cleared to make a field, the area releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” states Markku Larjavaara, researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI) of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.
Slowing down the release of carbon from the biosphere, or speeding up its uptake, have been proposed as cost-effective climate change mitigation methods. Research methods have varied radically, and it has been difficult to see the full range of global price fluctuations.
“We conducted interviews on the cost of increasing carbon in the biosphere in ten different areas. The value of our research comes from the large number of interviews using identical methods around the world,” says Larjavaara.
The research was led by the University of Helsinki, and also involved the University of Turku and the Center for International Forestry Research CIFOR.
Wildly different prices
As expected, increasing the amount of carbon in the biosphere proved least expensive in the research areas in Indonesia, most of which were covered with swamps and thick layers of peat.
“However, we were very surprised at how low the costs were in Finland, particularly Lapland, even though in all of our interviews, we assumed a good level of governance,” says Larjavaara.
According to Larjavaara, the developing countries included in the study did feature some challenges in terms of governmental administration, such as corruption. If good governance had not been assumed, the interviewees would have probably estimated that increasing biosphere carbon in the Indonesian areas would have proved to be very difficult and expensive. In that case, the research area in Lapland would have become the cheapest area for increased carbon uptake. It is likely that the tremendous efficacy of agricultural production in warmer countries makes increasing biosphere carbon uptake so expensive.
The acronym LULUCF, or Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry, refers to the UN’s climate change framework. It is a new sector which measures both carbon dioxide emissions and the release of carbon from soil and forests through human activity.
“Finns have been horrified by the LULUCF discussions in the EU, as the regulations agreed in the coming months may restrict Finland’s right to increase logging,” states Larjavaara.
According to Larjavaara, the matter could be looked at from another perspective – we need to turn manifestos into action.
Increasing carbon in the biosphere is a kind of additional service that Finland could offer the world through its forests and other land use.
“Increasing carbon in the biosphere is a kind of additional service that Finland could offer the world through its forests and other land use. The division into people who will benefit and those who will suffer from this depends on how sticks and carrots are employed. Just cutting agricultural subsidies which encourage farmers to keep their lands low-carbon – a preposterous goal from the perspective of biosphere carbon – would help increase the amount of carbon stored in the biosphere. Of course, the change is going to affect some people negatively, but we are just getting started. There will be a race to keep global warming to less than two degrees,” says Larjavaara.
Nature Climate Change.
Markku Larjavaara 1*, Markku Kanninen 1,2, Harold Gordillo 3, Joni Koskinen 4, Markus Kukkonen 4,5, Niina Käyhkö 4, Anne M. Larson 6 and Sven Wunder 6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-017-0015-7