WG III Mitigation - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: Mitigation

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4.3 Mitigation Options

In tropical regions there are large opportunities for C mitigation, though they cannot be considered in isolation of broader policies in forestry, agriculture, and other sectors. Additionally, options vary by social and economic conditions: in some regions slowing or halting deforestation is the major mitigation opportunity; in other regions, where deforestation rates have declined to marginal levels, improved natural forest management practices, afforestation, and reforestation of degraded forests and wastelands are the most attractive opportunities. However, the current mitigative capacity11 is often weak and sufficient land and water is not always available.

Non-tropical countries also have opportunities to preserve existing C pools, enhance C pools, or use biomass to offset fossil fuel use. Examples of strategies include fire or insect control, forest conservation, establishing fast-growing stands, changing silvicultural practices, planting trees in urban areas, ameliorating waste management practices, managing agricultural lands to store more C in soils, improving management of grazing lands, and re-planting grasses or trees on cultivated lands.

Wood and other biological products play several important roles in carbon mitigation: they act as a carbon reservoir; they can replace construction materials that require more fossil fuel input; and they can be burned in place of fossil fuels for renewable energy. Wood products already contribute somewhat to climate mitigation, but if infrastructures and incentives can be developed, wood and agricultural products may become a vital element of a sustainable economy: they are among the few renewable resources available on a large scale.

4.4 Criteria for Biological Carbon Mitigation Options

To develop strategies that mitigate atmospheric CO2 and advance other, equally important objectives, the following criteria merit consideration:

  • potential contributions to C pools over time;
  • sustainability, security, resilience, permanence, and robustness of the C pool maintained or created;
  • compatibility with other land-use objectives;
  • leakage and additionality issues;
  • economic costs;
  • environmental impacts other than climate mitigation;
  • social, cultural, and cross-cutting issues, as well as issues of equity; and
  • the system-wide effects on C flows in the energy and materials sector.

Activities undertaken for other reasons may enhance mitigation. An obvious example is reduced rates of tropical deforestation. Furthermore, because wealthy countries generally have a stable forest estate, it could be argued that economic development is associated with activities that build up forest carbon reservoirs.

4.5 Economic Costs

Most studies suggest that the economic costs of some biological carbon mitigation options, particularly forestry options, are quite modest through a range. Cost estimates of biological mitigation reported to date vary significantly from US$0.1/tC to about US$20/tC in several tropical countries and from US$20 to US$100/tC in non-tropical countries. Moreover the cost calculations do not cover, in many instances, inter alia, costs for infrastructure, appropriate discounting, monitoring, data collection and interpretation, and opportunity costs of land and maintenance, or other recurring costs, which are often excluded or overlooked. The lower end of the ranges are biased downwards, but understanding and treatment of costs is improving over time. Furthermore, in many cases biological mitigation activities may have other positive impacts, such as protecting tropical forests or creating new forests with positive external environmental effects. However, costs rise as more biological mitigation options are exercised and as the opportunity costs of the land increases. Biological mitigation costs appear to be lowest in developing countries and higher in developed countries. If biological mitigation activities are modest, leakage is likely to be small. However, the amount of leakage could rise if biological mitigation activities became large and widespread.

4.6 Marine Ecosystem and Geo-engineering

Marine ecosystems may also offer possibilities for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The standing stock of C in the marine biosphere is very small, however, and efforts could focus, not on increasing biological C stocks, but on using biospheric processes to remove C from the atmosphere and transport it to the deep ocean. Some initial experiments have been performed, but fundamental questions remain about the permanence and stability of C removals, and about unintended consequences of the large-scale manipulations required to have a significant impact on the atmosphere. In addition, the economics of such approaches have not yet been determined.

Geo-engineering involves efforts to stabilize the climate system by directly managing the energy balance of the earth, thereby overcoming the enhanced greenhouse effect. Although there appear to be possibilities for engineering the terrestrial energy balance, human understanding of the system is still rudimentary. The prospects of unanticipated consequences are large, and it may not even be possible to engineer the regional distribution of temperature, precipitation, etc. Geo-engineering raises scientific and technical questions as well as many ethical, legal, and equity issues. And yet, some basic inquiry does seem appropriate.

In practice, by the year 2010 mitigation in land use, land-use change, and forestry activities can lead to significant mitigation of CO2 emissions. Many of these activities are compatible with, or complement, other objectives in managing land. The overall effects of altering marine ecosystems to act as carbon sinks or of applying geo-engineering technology in climate change mitigation remain unresolved and are not, therefore, ready for near-term application.

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