Study Questions Value of Carbon Sink

A new international study questions ability of carbon sinks to permanently hold carbon.

The idea is to grow trees, shrubs, and grasses that will capture from the air carbon from carbon dioxide, one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases (GHG) created by burning fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal. The idea is to manage farmland so as to reduce the release of other GHG’s such as methane.

That’s what Canada wants to do instead of massively reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from Alberta’s tar sands and from Ontario Hydro’s coal-fired electricity plants. Canada wants to take the easy way out – -have its carbon dioxide and eat it too.

But a new international study questions ability of carbon sinks to permanently hold carbon. Forest fires could release the sequestered carbon. Improper or mismanaged farming practices could undo all the work to hold the carbon in the soil.

England’s Royal Society just released a report entitled, “The Role of Land Carbon Sinks in Mitigating Global Climate Change”. The report highlights the considerable uncertainty in the scientific understanding of the causes, magnitude and permanence of the land carbon sink.

It found that the potential for human enhancement of the land carbon sink through changes in land management practices is finite in size and duration. Therefore, it recommends that the processes for calculating the true absorbative capacity of forest and agricultural crops should be modified to reflect their short-term role in absorbing carbon dioxide.

Reform of national agricultural policies could provide opportunities to achieve better carbon sink monitoring and maintenance for short-term gain. With respect to the inclusion of land carbon sinks in the Kyoto Protocol, the report express concern that measurement techniques currently available are not sufficiently accurate to permit the reliable monitoring of any land carbon sinks that may be designated as part of such international agreements.

The report concludes that projects designed to enhance land carbon sinks should not be allowed to divert financial and political resources away from long-term solutions to the problem of reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, namely the reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

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