Reaching carbon neutrality will not be easy in California • Earth.com
Part of California’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2045 relies on natural ecosystems to absorb carbon
07-28-2021

Reaching carbon neutrality will not be easy in California

Part of California’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2045 relies on natural ecosystems to absorb carbon. But now, new research from UC Irvine warns that climate change itself may hamper the ability of forests and shrublands to take up carbon. 

The study, published in the journal AGU Advances, predicts that natural carbon storage in California will drop by 9 to 16 percent under varying scenarios. 

“This work highlights the conundrum that climate change poses to the state of California,” said study lead author Shane Coffield.

“We need our forests and other plant-covered areas to provide a ‘natural climate solution’ of removing carbon dioxide from the air, but heat and drought caused by the very problem we’re trying to solve could make it more difficult to achieve our objectives.”

Despite an aggressive plan involving both artificial means of carbon sequestration and natural carbon sequestration by plants, it seems California may need to work even harder on emissions reduction to reach its carbon neutrality goal. 

“The emissions scenario that we follow will have a large effect on the carbon storage potential of our forests,” said study co-author James Randerson.

“A more moderate emissions scenario in which we convert to more renewable energy sources leads to about half of the ecosystem carbon [sequestration] loss compared to a more extreme emissions scenario.”

Unfortunately, climate models are not in agreement about the amount of precipitation in California’s future. However, the places most likely to lose carbon sequestration abilities are also some of the areas with large carbon offset projects. 

Overall, it seems the northern part of the state will become wetter, while the southern part becomes drier. Randerson says he hopes the research will be useful for planning.

“We hope that this work will inform land management and climate policies so that steps can be taken to protect existing carbon stocks and tree species in the most climate-vulnerable locations. Effective management of fire risk is essential for limiting carbon [sequestration] losses throughout much of the state.”

By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com Staff Writer

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