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The limits to global-warming mitigation by terrestrial carbon removal
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Number of Authors: 6
2017 (English)In: Earth's Future, ISSN 1384-5160, E-ISSN 2328-4277, Vol. 5, no 5, 463-474 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Massive near-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction is a precondition for staying well below 2 degrees C global warming as envisaged by the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, extensive terrestrial carbon dioxide removal (tCDR) through managed biomass growth and subsequent carbon capture and storage is required to avoid temperature overshoot in most pertinent scenarios. Here, we address two major issues: First, we calculate the extent of tCDR required to repair delayed or insufficient emissions reduction policies unable to prevent global mean temperature rise of 2.5 degrees C or even 4.5 degrees C above pre-industrial level. Our results show that those tCDR measures are unable to counteract business-as-usual emissions without eliminating virtually all natural ecosystems. Even if considerable (Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 [RCP4.5]) emissions reductions are assumed, tCDR with 50% storage efficiency requires >1.1 Gha of the most productive agricultural areas or the elimination of > 50% of natural forests. In addition, > 100 MtN/yr fertilizers would be needed to remove the roughly 320 GtC foreseen in these scenarios. Such interventions would severely compromise food production and/or biosphere functioning. Second, we reanalyze the requirements for achieving the 160-190 GtC tCDR that would complement strong mitigation action (RCP2.6) in order to avoid 2 degrees C overshoot anytime. We find that a combination of high irrigation water input and/or more efficient conversion to stored carbon is necessary. In the face of severe trade-offs with society and the biosphere, we conclude that large-scale tCDR is not a viable alternative to aggressive emissions reduction. However, we argue that tCDR might serve as a valuable supporting actor for strong mitigation if sustainable schemes are established immediately. Plain Language Summary In 2015, parties agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. However, this requires not only massive near-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions but also the application of negative emission techniques that extract already emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Specifically, this could refer to the establishment of extensive plantations of fast-growing tree and grass species in combination with biomass conversion to carbon-saving products. Although such deployment is seen as promising, its carbon sequestration potentials and possible side-effects still remain to be studied in depth. In this study, we analyzed two feasibility aspects of such a negative emissions approach using biomass plantations and carbon utilization pathways. First, we show that biomass plantations with subsequent carbon immobilization are likely unable to repair insufficient emission reduction policies without compromising food production and biosphere functioning due to its space-consuming properties. Second, the requirements for a strong mitigation scenario staying below the 2 degrees C target would require a combination of high irrigation water input and development of highly effective carbon process chains. Although we find that this strategy of sequestering carbon is not a viable alternative to aggressive emission reductions, it could still support mitigation efforts if sustainably managed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017. Vol. 5, no 5, 463-474 p.
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145273DOI: 10.1002/2016EF000469ISI: 000403546800004OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-145273DiVA: diva2:1128451
Available from: 2017-07-25 Created: 2017-07-25 Last updated: 2017-07-25Bibliographically approved

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