As the Cerrado pledge demonstrates, when governments and businesses come
together to address land-use challenges, the impact is potent. Natural climate
solutions have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated
11.3 billion tons a year – equal to a complete halt in burning oil, according
to our study. One recent study calculated that if Brazil reached zero
deforestation by 2030, it would add 0.6% of GDP, or about $15 billion, to its
economy. Communities also reap secondary benefits—such as rural regeneration,
improved food and water security, and coastal resilience – when natural climate
solutions are implemented.
Yet, despite the data
supporting better land-use decision-making, something isn’t adding up. In 2016,
the world witnessed a dramatic 51% increase in forest loss, equivalent to an area about
the size of New Zealand. We need to buck this trend now, and help the world
realize that land-use planning is not simply a conservation story.
Some countries are moving in
the right direction. The Indian government, for example, has set aside $6
billion for states to invest in forest restoration. In Indonesia, the
government created a dedicated agency to protect and restore peatlands, bogs,
and swamp-like ecosystems that have immense CO2 storage capabilities.
But they are the exceptions.
Of the 160 countries that committed to implementing the Paris climate
agreement, only 36 have specified land-use management in their
Overcoming inertia will not be
easy. Forests, farms, and coasts vary in size, type, and accessibility.
Moreover, the lives of hundreds of millions of people are tied to these
ecosystems, and projects that restore forest cover or improve soil health
require focused planning, a massive undertaking for many governments.
One way to get things moving,
especially in the agricultural sector, would be to remove or redirect subsidies
that encourage excessive consumption of fertilizers, water, or energy in food
production. As Indian government officials reminded their peers during a World
Trade Organization meeting earlier this year, meaningful agricultural reforms
can begin only when rich countries reduce the “disproportionately large” subsidies they give their own