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U.S. Announces Plan for Conserving Carbon Sinks at COP26

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Joe Biden at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Credit: Eric Haynes, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The United States on Tuesday announced the Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Forests at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The plan is the U.S.’s comprehensive approach to protecting carbon sinks across the world. The government plans on using a variety of measures to ensure that carbon sinks and the ecosystems that constitute them are protected from the threat of climate change.

Carbon sinks are a crucial element of the planet’s relationship to the carbon in the atmosphere. They are negative feedback loops that take and retain more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit, constituting crucial bastions of sustainability that curtail the levels of carbon in the atmosphere.

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The government will work closely with Congress in the hopes of gaining the approval to use $9 billion of its climate budget to put the plan into place by the end of the decade.

The focus on carbon sinks is part of the U.S.’s larger effort to reduce emissions to net-zero by the mid 21st century. An official statement from the State Department outlined how the plan will contribute to this goal:

“The United States recognizes that without halting deforestation and restoring forests at scale, we cannot reach net zero emissions by 2050, and we cannot limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is not a long-term challenge. It is something we must do immediately, in this critical decade. Forests and other ecosystems could provide as much as one-third of global mitigation by 2030 – by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and by enhancing the carbon sequestered from the atmosphere through forest restoration. The Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks has been devised to catalyze even more ambitious global action towards this end.”

U.S. government’s new plan to protect carbon sinks addresses one of the environment’s most urgent issues: carbon emissions

The issue of carbon emissions has been a central focus of Biden’s presence at the COP26, as the president reminds fellow world leaders of his plan to reduce emissions to net-zero. The pressure to engage with the level of carbon in our planet’s atmosphere is perhaps the most intense it has ever been, as greenhouse gas levels reach historic highs.

The United Nation’s weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said in its annual report last week that greenhouse gas levels in the planet’s atmosphere were at a record high in 2020.

The WMO’s report showed that carbon dioxide levels peaked at 413.2 parts per million in 2020, building at a much higher pace than the yearly average for the past decade, despite a small lull during the beginning of the pandemic’s lockdowns.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – the gases that contribute the most significantly to global warming while also causing catastrophic weather events – were all far above amounts found in the pre-industrial era before 1750, when humans  “started disrupting Earth’s natural equilibrium,” according to the agency.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas cautioned that the pace at which heat-trapping gases are increasing would lead to elevations in temperature “far in excess” of 1.5C (2.7F) – which is the standard decided on in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

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