Land use important for climate goals

12 Apr 2022

Land use is a decisive factor for getting a handle on climate change.

  • LMU climate researcher Julia Pongratz: “In addition to further drastic reductions in CO2 emissions, we need to concentrate on the active sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere.”
  • Without a fast and lasting reduction in CO2 emissions, the 1.5 degree target cannot be reached.

Land use plays a major role in greenhouse gas emissions, even if fossil emissions have presented the greater problem as regards climate change since the middle of the 20th century. Land use currently accounts for around 15 percent of CO2 emissions. If we factor in all greenhouse gases – that is, if we include the methane and nitrous oxide produced by livestock farming and fertilization – this proportion increases to around 25 percent. Climate researcher Julia Pongratz, Chair of Physical Geography and Land Use Systems at LMU, highlights the importance of this aspect for stopping climate change: “Reductions in the rate of emission are no longer sufficient. On its own, that approach is not effective enough to make the required difference. In addition to further drastic reductions in CO2 emissions, we need to concentrate on the active sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere,” Julia Pongratz says.

At the same time, land use is important for sequestering CO2. Forests, for example, store vast amounts of carbon and therefore have an important role as natural carbon sinks. It is possible to deliberately increase the size of such sinks by afforestation and similar strategies. So knowledge of how different types of vegetation affect the carbon balance is now relevant in two ways - in relation to emissions, and in terms of their potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Humanity has already produced so much carbon dioxide emissions that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 48 percent since pre-industrial times. As a result, the Earth has been continually warming since the middle of the 19th century such that global temperatures are now 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter. “We know that we are still emitting too much CO2 and that the target to limit global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels cannot be met without rapid, substantial and sustained reductions in emissions,” says Pongratz, whose research at LMU investigates how global emissions from agriculture and forestry can best be estimated and where there is potential for taking CO2 back out of the atmosphere.

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