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Governments hiding behind 'unproven' net-zero carbon targets - Oxfam report

The report argues that the “sudden rush” for ‘net zero’ promises are over-relying on planting trees to remove greenhouse gases.
Aug 3rd 2021, 6:30 AM 11,547 5

TOO MANY GOVERNMENTS and corporations are hiding behind “unreliable, unproven and unrealistic” carbon-removal schemes in order to claim their 2050 climate change plans will be ‘net zero’, an Oxfam report has claimed.

Oxfam’s report ‘Tightening the Net’ has argued that using land alone to remove the world’s carbon emissions to achieve “net zero” by 2050 would require at least 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, equivalent to five times the size of India or more than all the farmland on the planet.

At the same time, the report argues, governments and corporations are failing to cut emissions quickly or deeply enough to avert catastrophic climate breakdown.

The “sudden rush” for ‘net zero’ promises are over-relying on vast swathes of land to plant trees in order to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

To limit warming below 1.5°C and prevent irreversible damage from climate change, Oxfam argues that the world should be on track to cut 2010 carbon emissions level by 45% by 2030, with the sharpest being made by the biggest emitters.

But countries’ current plans to cut emissions will achieve only around 1% reduction in global emissions by 2030, it said.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “The climate crisis is already devastating agriculture globally. It is driving worsening humanitarian crises, hunger, and migration. Poor and vulnerable people, particularly women farmers and Indigenous people, are being affected first and worst.

“Net zero should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains.

Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes are an important part of the mix of efforts needed to stop global emissions, but they must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses, while polluters use them as an alibi to keep polluting.”

Oxfam also argues that if used at scale, land-based carbon removal methods such as mass tree planting could see global food prices surging by 80% by 2050.

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In the run-up to the Glasgow COP this year, more than 120 countries, including the world’s top three emitters ―the US, China and the EU― have pledged to reach ‘net-zero’ by mid-century. 

Clarken continued: “‘Net-zero’ might sound like a good idea, but over-relying on planting trees and as-yet-unproven technology instead of genuinely shifting away from fossil fuelled-dependent economies is a dangerous folly. We will be hoodwinked by ‘net zero’ targets if all they amount to are smokescreens for dirty business-as-usual.

“Land is a finite and precious resource. It is what millions of small-scale farmers and Indigenous people around the world depend upon for their livelihoods.”

“There are no magic fixes to reach ‘net zero’ and Ireland should not expect offsets in low- and middle-income countries to come to the rescue if we miss our emission targets. The society-wide change that is required for Ireland to reach its 2030 ambition and ‘net zero’ by no later than 2050 can only be achieved if it is fully supported by a broad supportive national policy framework, including our fiscal policies, sustainable finance, spatial policy, and the national and EU research ecosystem.

“Ireland’s pathway to ‘net zero’ will not affect all groups equally at the same time. Actions to support individuals and communities in undertaking the necessary changes are, therefore, important considerations for policy design in all sectors of the economy,” Clarken concluded.

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Gráinne Ní Aodha

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