One way to meet the goals set out by the Paris Agreement on climate change is carbon sequestration – capturing and storing carbon in the atmosphere. A recent study including Purdue University researchers finds forests are an efficient way to do that – but with limits.
The researchers say expanding forested land is a relatively cheap and efficient way to reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the climate.
Purdue University professor Wally Tyner was one of the authors in the study and says farmers could be persuaded to switch from fields to forests, with the right financial incentives.
“Forests are so good at sequestering carbon and so cheap that a lot of ag land gets converted to trees,” he says.
Tyner says using forests for carbon sequestration is good in small amounts. But not if forests replace too much farmland.
“At a small scale, few trees here; few trees there, beautiful,” says Tyner. “But at a large scale, the scale large enough to achieve the Paris Accord, forest sequestration leads to big increases in food prices.”
Tyner says the study finds transforming land used for agriculture to trees would affect poorer countries the most.
“They go up the highest is India and the second highest is China,” he says. “And so it’s something that just wouldn’t be [possible] – I mean the increases are in the hundred of percentages.”
Americans would still feel the impact, but to a lesser degree.
“You know if your food budget goes up 20% you’ll notice that,” he says.
Before converting large areas of farmland to trees, Tyner says crops need to be developed to be able to produce large amounts of food on small amount of land and be able to withstand climate change. He recommends carbon taxes are the most likely solution to reducing emissions.