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Protecting Carbon Sinks Is Critical for Addressing Climate Emergency


China lays out targets for forestry and grassland conservation highlighting the importance of natural carbon sinks and biodiversity

23 August 2021 – The China Forestry and Grassland Administration and the China National Development and Reform Commission released the 14th Five-Year Forestry and Grassland Protection and Development Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”).

During the 14th Five-Year period (2021-2025), the Plan sets 12 overarching goals, including to increase forest coverage from 23.04% to 24.1%, increase grassland vegetation coverage from 56.1% to 57%, protect 55% of its wetland (a rise from 52% in 2020), combat desertification in an area of 100 million mu (about 67,000km²), and protect more than 18% of the country’s land area under its natural reserve system. The Plan also highlights the importance of forestry and grassland conservation for protecting natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.

The recently released Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6 Report) explains how little time the climate system has left us to keep from breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise threshold above preindustrial levels. While it is critical for countries to take fast action to reduce the short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), as well as longer-term decarbonization, it is also vital to protect and expand the irrecoverable natural carbon sinks. According to the IPCC AR6 Report, 31% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions were removed by terrestrial ecosystems during 2010–2019. The protection of land sinks prevents countries from undermining climate benefits from reducing CO2 and SLCP emissions and helps countries achieve their carbon-peaking and carbon-neutrality goals.

Particularly, protecting forest sinks requires countries to shift away from policies supporting the use of forest biomass for energy. As noted in the IPCC AR6 Report, wood-based bioenergy – even with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) – is not carbon negative in the initial decades. Additionally, large-scale deployment of BECCS threatens water supply, food security, and biodiversity.

During the run-up to the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, governments are urged to reevaluate their bioenergy policies for compatibility with the urgent need to protect the natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.