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Tightening the Net: Oxfam’s Report on Implications of Net Zero Climate Targets for Land and Food Equity

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    1st Sep, 2021

Context

The Oxfam report titled ‘Tightening the Net’ states that the ‘net zero’ carbon targets that many nations have proclaimed may be a “dangerous distraction” from the precedence of curbing carbon emissions. It warns that "land-hungry" practices to achieve net zero carbon targets would cause disproportionately adverse effects like higher food prices and more hunger around the world.

Highlights of the Report:

Oxfam International

The name “Oxfam” comes from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, founded in Britain in 1942. It campaigned for food supplies to be sent through an allied naval blockade to starving women and children in enemy-occupied Greece during the Second World War.

After the War, the group continued their work of sending aid across Europe.

Oxfam International was formed in 1995 by a group of independent NGOs. They joined together as a confederation to maximize efficiency and achieve greater impact to reduce global poverty and injustice.

  • Net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. This means that the country is not aiming for zero emissions, but only carbon-neutrality
  • ‘Net zero emissions’ and ‘zero emissions’ do not mean the same thing. Instead, in many cases, net zero targets are a greenwashing exercise that enable business as usual.
  • The most recent estimates from the UN suggest that by 2030, emissions are currently likely to be just 0.5% below 2010 levels, compared with the 45% needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050
  • About 1.6 billion hectares of new forests would be required to remove world’s excess carbon emissions by 2050, if the climate change challenge is tackled only by planting more trees. This amounts to the land as five times the size of India, or the equivalent of all the farmland on the planet.
  • Citing data from the IPCC, Oxfam argues that if the current land-based carbon emission removal schemes continue, it could see global food prices up by about 80 percent by 2050.

Problem with the Net Zero Targets/ Technologies

Land Based Carbon Removal Methods

  • Enhancing carbon sequestration in forests
  • Afforestation/reforestation
  • Enhancing soil carbon
  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
  • Biochar
  • Shift focus away from cutting carbon emissions, for example by rapidly ending the use of coal, oil and gas for electricity and oil for cars
  • Net Zero targets rely on removal of carbon via virtually unproven new, non-scalable technologies and methods
  • These envisage a level of land use that is completely impossible and would lead to mass hunger and displacement of people across the world, as the demand for land, particularly in low- and middle-income countries will surge

Net Zero Commitments Made so Far:

  • Currently more than 120 countries, includingthose in the EU, the USA, China and Japan, have pledged to reach net zeroby mid-century.
  • There has also been a wave of corporate net zero climatecommitments from a range of companies and investors, including BritishAirways, Mars, Unilever, Citigroup, BlackRock, Shell and BP.
  • European Union has a plan called ‘Fit for 55’, and has asked all of its 27 member countries to cut emissions by 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Policy Recommendations:

Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi)

It is a partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that sets standards for climate action in the private sector by enabling companies to set science-based emissions reduction targets.

  • Net zero targets must prioritize ambitious emissions reductions to align with the goal of limiting warming to below 1.5°C and ensure rapid decarbonisation by 2030.
  • Companies should disclose and commit to reducing emissions in accordance with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). SBTi requires that companies set targets based on emission reductions through direct action within their own operations and/or their value chains
  • Net zero commitments must be backed by meaningful transparency and disclosure. Reducing emissions cannot be considered a substitute for cutting emissions, and these should be counted separately
  • Land-based climate action must be anchored in food first, rights-based approaches that help to achieve zero hunger and zero emissions. Land rights of communities and Indigenous Peoples should be protected as part of land-based mitigation efforts
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