Protecting and restoring wildlife offers a new climate solution
A new study has suggested that by protecting and restoring wildlife, we can enhance natural carbon capture mechanisms and reduce climate change.
Introducing natural solutions to tackle climate change by protecting and enhancing carbon capture in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems has the added advantage of protecting animal species.
While many of the current natural climate solutions are focused on protecting and restoring plant ecosystems, researchers say that we’re overlooking another way of reining in negative emissions: wild animals. The process of using wild animal conservation to enhance carbon capture and storage is called animating the carbon cycle (ACC).
However, taking full advantage of ACC requires protecting and restoring animal species to adequate numbers that enable them to fulfill their ecological function, otherwise known as trophic rewilding.
According to new research undertaken by 15 scientists from eight countries, wild animals are critical to controlling the carbon cycle on land and in water through actions like foraging, trampling, burrowing, seed dispersal, and ecological engineering.
“Wildlife species, throughout their interaction with the environment, are the missing link between biodiversity and climate,” said Oswald Schmitz, lead author of the study. “This interaction means rewilding can be among the best nature-based climate solutions available to humankind.”
The researchers examined nine wildlife species – marine fish, whales, sharks, gray wolves, wildebeest, sea otters, musk oxen, African forest elephants, and American bison – and found that protecting or restoring the populations of these animals could collectively allow the additional capture of 6.41 billion tons of carbon dioxide yearly. This represents 95% of the amount needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement target to keep global warming below the 2.7 °F (1.5 °C) threshold.
They focused on larger animals because their ecological effects tend to be more pronounced. In addition, they’re more sensitive to human interference, habitat loss and alteration.
However, the dynamics of carbon uptake and storage depend on the presence of animals. With the world’s wildlife populations having declined by almost 70% in the last 50 years, the researchers found that pushing wild animal populations to the point of extinction could turn their ecosystems from carbon sinks to carbon sources.
The researchers recommend strengthening current animal recovery efforts and the introduction of legislation, policies and funding to aid the conservation of animals whose numbers have been reduced by human intervention.
They know that adopting a trophic rewilding approach to climate change will require a change in mindset.
“Supporting such efforts scientifically will require changes in the thinking and execution of research on Earth and ecosystem science to embrace and quantify animal controls on the entirety of the carbon cycle,” the researchers said. “It further requires a change in policy thinking to recognize that trophic rewilding can be an instrumental part of natural climate solutions. There is some urgency on both fronts because we are losing populations of many animal species just as we are discovering how much they functionally impact carbon capture and storage.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Source: Yale University
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1. Global wildlife has declined by almost 70% in the past forty years.
2. Rewilding, if successful to the extent envisaged would almost totally reduce CO2 emissions (95%) as targeted in the Paris accords.
Taken together at face value, it raises the heretical question of, “to what (percentage) extent has wildlife degradation been responsible for the total increase in atmospheric CO2 in the past forty to sixty years?”
You're not going to save the world from global warming by letting a squirrel live in your backyard or by donating a few dollars to the "save the spotted owl" society.
While biodiversity was a hallmark of the previous climate conditions, the ultimate fix is to reduce the carbon sequestered in the upper atmosphere and the carbon dissolved in the oceans. Add that to humans reducing their reliance on releasing more fixed carbon than storing (or fixing back into nature) carbon, you see the problem. TechGazer isn't wrong, just not right. Any approach toward fixing more of the carbon excess naturally without increasing spending will have some impact - an impact not readily seen and likely not significant as the Oceans and the Atmosphere have a tremendous excess of Carbon to deal with. But incremental steps take by altering our natural world will help as will the bigger steps industries and people make in daily choices. I personally do not know anyone who has a large chunk of property they wish to return to the wilderness landscape - but if I did, I would hope it would improve the carbon fixing in that property! I sure am glad some youngsters figured out what old farmers have been teaching for years!