Governments and corporations are hiding behind unreliable, unproven and unrealistic “carbon removal schemes” in order to claim their 2050 climate change plans will be net zero, according to a new report from Oxfam.
The report, called ‘Tightening the Net,’ claims that “land-hungry ‘net-zero’ schemes could force an 80 percent rise in global food prices and more hunger while allowing rich nations and corporations to continue dirty, business-as-usual” practices.
“‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains,” said Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Lead for Oxfam International.
“Instead, too many ‘net-zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.”
Many countries' and corporations’ plans focus on the planting of trees as a way to achieve carbon neutrality, but Oxfam says this isn’t realistic.
According to Oxfam’s analysis, using land alone to remove the world’s carbon emissions in order to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050 would require at least 1.6 billion hectares of new forest - five times the size of India, or more than all the farmland on the planet.
“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes are an important part of the mix of efforts needed to stop global emissions, but they must be pursued in a much more cautious way,” said Dabi.
“Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realize them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses, while polluters use them as an alibi to keep polluting.”
Oxfam’s report also says that countries are failing to cut emissions quickly or deeply enough to avert a “catastrophic climate breakdown,” and that the sudden rush of promises to become ‘net zero’ are over-relying on nonexistent swaths of land on which trees would be planted in order to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
For Belgium, the country says it has the technical means to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 via many different paths, according to a recent prospective study carried out by the FPS Public Health’s Climate Change Department.
Those models didn’t necessarily focus on the planting of trees, but rather lifestyle changes in areas like mobility, housing and food, along with the deployment of energy efficiency technologies and decarbonised fuels such as synthetic fuels or hydrogen.
But the planting of trees is considered a worthwhile step in Belgium’s plans to mitigate climate change nonetheless, as evidenced by the recent requirement for energy company Eneco to plant 150,000 trees on 100 hectares of land in exchange for building a gas power plant in the Hainaut village of Manage.
Oxfam recently reported that global food prices have risen by 40 percent in the past year, contributing to an additional 20 million people falling into what they describe as catastrophic conditions of hunger, along with a six-fold increase in famine-like conditions.
“If used at scale, land-based carbon removal methods such as mass tree planting could see global food prices surging by 80 percent by 2050,” their new report warns.
Furthermore, the organisation argues, such efforts wouldn’t be enough to combat climate change.
“To limit warming below 1.5 C and prevent irreversible damage from climate change, the world collectively should be on track to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels, with the sharpest being made by the biggest emitters,” Oxfam says.
“Countries’ current plans to cut emissions will achieve only around 1 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030.”
During EU Green Week (which was in May of this year), the Commission’s adoption of the EU Action Plan: ‘Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil’ did focus on achieving ‘net-zero’ as part of a key deliverable of the European Green Deal.
But Oxfam says many such pledges (made by over 120 countries, including the top three carbon emitting regions: the US, China and the EU) regarding net-zero are vague, and not backed by measurable plans.
“Even a country as small as Switzerland could need land nearly equivalent to the entire island of Puerto Rico to plant enough trees to meet its ‘net zero’ target,” Oxfam says.
Switzerland recently struck carbon-offsetting deals with Peru and Ghana. Also in the region is Colombia, which has a ‘net zero’ target that Oxfam says requires reforesting over one million hectares of land by 2030, even as rates of deforestation continue to climb.
The Shell corporation would need to reforest land the size of Honduras by 2030 in order to achieve its neutrality goal.
Oxfam says that these goals aren’t feasible.
“‘Net-zero’ might sound like a good idea, but the oil majors’ climate plans reveal just how much land these distant ‘net-zero’ targets are banking on,” said Dabi.
“Over-relying on planting trees and as-yet-unproven technology instead of genuinely shifting away from fossil fuel-dependent economies is a dangerous folly. We are already seeing the devastating consequences of climate delay. We will be hoodwinked by ‘net-zero’ targets if all they amount to are smokescreens for dirty business-as-usual.”
Removing emissions is not a substitute for cutting them, Oxford says, nor are goals surrounding the mass planting of trees particularly realistic or even possible without causing harm to the communities using the land being considered for reforestation.
“Land is a finite and precious resource. It is what millions of small-scale farmers and Indigenous people around the world depend upon for their livelihoods,” said Dabi.
“We all depend upon the good stewardship of land for our own food security. The whole world benefits from protecting forests and safeguarding the land rights of farmers and Indigenous peoples.”