Land use, changes to land use and forestry are all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Land clearing and farming can release carbon stored in the soil and vegetation into the atmosphere. And logging accounts for approximately one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, changes to farming practices, or the growing of new forests, can reduce emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
According to the Kyoto Protocol, a country’s emissions reduction targets can be partly met by the creation of carbon ‘sinks’, which remove carbon from the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol treats the growing of new forests as one such carbon ‘sink’. It has also established rules and methods for calculating carbon emissions and removals from sinks and deforestation.
However planting forests to offset emissions from burning fossil fuels is a problem. This is because it’s impossible to guarantee the long-term storage of this carbon. New forests are susceptible to natural threats such as fire, disease and drought. Sinks may also be established as plantations of a single fast-growing species, which can decrease biodiversity and have other negative impacts on the environment and local communities.
Lifestyle issues also impact on land use. Agriculture contributes nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse pollution, with livestock production accounting for nearly 80 per cent of agricultural emissions, mainly in the form of methane. A reduction in the consumption of meat could dramatically reduce these emissions.
Land use is a complex issue, but it’s clear there are climate-smart ways to improve our farming techniques to achieve real greenhouse savings. The impact on our climate from deforestation is also a major issue.
Australian Greenhouse Office, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Land Use Change in Australia
Garnaut Review on Climate Change, Issues Paper 1: Land Use – Agriculture and Forestry