Forests and oceans more effective than carbon capture technology

| 14th October 2009

Local ownership of forests is the best guarantee against their misuse

Two new reports say existing forest and ocean systems offer the most cost effective way to capture and store carbon - far cheaper than industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology

There has been a recent surge of interest in CCS, with climate change minister Ed Miliband saying this week that he was, 'determined to make sure it happens quickly'.

This followed a report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that said 100 CCS plants would need to be fitted to fossil-fuel driven power stations built by 2020 and 3,000 by 2050 to bring about needed carbon emission cuts.

However, research led by University of Michigan has shown that there is more potential than we realise for forests to act as carbon 'sinks'.

The study looked at 80 forests in the developing world over 15 years and found that local ownership rather than government control of the land was the best guarantee against misuse.

The research suggested this is because local communities were dependent on the forests for their livelihoods, and so valued its preservation more highly.

'The urgency of the global need to increase carbon storage in forests and local reliance on forests for continuing livelihood benefits through extraction of forest biomass make it especially important that scientists better understand the relationship between carbon storage in forests and their contributions to livelihoods,' said lead author Professor Arun Agrawal.

'We show that larger forest size and greater rule-making autonomy at the local level are associated with high carbon storage and livelihood
benefits,' he said.

Blue carbon

In a separate development, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that marine ecosystems are storing carbon equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector.

It says that 55 per cent of the biological carbon captured in the world is removed from the atmosphere by marine organisms, producing so-called 'blue carbon'.

Unlike carbon capture and storage on land, where carbon may be locked away only for decades or centuries, that stored in the oceans remains for millennia.

'We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and
water purification services: now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change,' said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary
General and UNEP Executive Director.

'Indeed this report estimates that halting losses and catalysing the recovery of marine ecosystems might contribute to offsetting up to seven percent of current fossil fuel emissions and at a fraction of the costs of technologies to capture and store carbon at power stations,' he added.

Useful links
UNEP report
IEA report
University of Michigan study

See also

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