We continue to read the SDGs science report, and come to the Science and technology part about Global environment commons.
We have seen last week that science is much present on the topic of global environmental commons in the report The Future is Now. Let’s come on what the authors write about the lever of transformation Science and technology.
New techniques and substitute technologies help reduce the stress on the global environmental commons. They can help, for example, in reducing emissions in urban areas and the growing demand forcement in developing countries . It should be emphasized, however, that technology needs to be part of overall economic and social changes that lead to lower consumption.
Then, they develop only one example: forest and soil carbon based sequestration. It is of course about CO2 emissions/sequestration. First, they note that the best carbon capture technology we know today is the natural technology of growing life, mostly plants.
To offset difficult-to-eliminate emissions, it is possible to encourage negative emissions. As noted above, technologies to capture carbon are rapidly developing but have not yet been proven at scale. Afforestation and soil carbon sequestration remain the two most widely used means for negative emissions, but there are limits to the area that can be reforested and to the amount of carbon that can be stored in soils. Afforestation uses plant photosynthesis to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Drawbacks of planting trees
However, as for every action we may take, we must be cautious, because just planting trees could have drawbacks.
That can involve monoculture planting of a single species, which, while efficient in sequestering carbon, may disturb local flora and fauna, and users of the land predating the afforestation. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2015, the large-scale land use transitions required for effective forest and soil-based carbon sequestration can prove challenging for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. In cases in which there are risks for biodiversity and livelihoods, diverse indigenous trees can be planted and communities involved in forest management.
Protect current ecosystems
And in the end, the best practice is to protect what already exists, i. e. old forests and current ecosystems. Here science is important to document these ecosystems, to show the value of neglected environments and also to provide survey and management tools, methods and technologies.
Even more effective is to protect old-growth forests, which are generally superior for water and soil conservation than new forests, while supporting biodiversity, cultural and ecosystem services, climate change mitigation and adaptation. Monitoring of deforestation and land-use change can be greatly helped by the use of satellite imagery.
It is important to take actions to prevent the irreversible deforestation of old-growth forests. Certification systems are one means of reducing deforestation, and support the integration of logging with forest management, especially if the private sector is part of the scheme, as was the case in the East African forest. Negative emissions should be part of an integrated energy system which coordinates green energy supply, energy demand and carbon sequestration or capture.