A new Cornell University study shows that deforestation and subsequent use of lands for agriculture or pasture, especially in tropical regions, contribute more to climate change than previously thought.
The new paper, “Are the Impacts of Land Use on Warming Underestimated in Climate Policy?” published in Environmental Research Letters, also shows just how significantly that impact has been underestimated. Even if all fossil fuel emissions are eliminated, if current tropical deforestation rates hold steady through 2100, there will still be a 1.5 degree increase in global warming.
“A lot of the emphasis of climate policy is on converting to sustainable energy from fossil fuels,” said Natalie M. Mahowald, the paper’s lead author and faculty director of environment for the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. “It’s an incredibly important step to take, but, ironically, particulates released from the burning of fossil fuels – which are severely detrimental to human health – have a cooling effect on the climate. Removing those particulates actually makes it harder to reach the lower temperatures laid out in the Paris agreement.”
She said that in addition to phasing out fossil fuels, scientific and policymaking communities must pay attention to changes in land use to stem global warming, as deforestation effects are “not negligible.”
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